Yemeni tried for being Bin Laden’s driver [Archives:2005/861/Front Page]

July 21 2005

Prosecutors called him Bin Laden's bodyguard and close affiliate, the defense say he is just a simple man who needed to work. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 35 years old is a Yemeni man who worked as bin Ladin's driver in and worked mostly on bin Laden's Kandahar farm for a $200-a-month salary because he needed the work ) not out of ideological commitment. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld President Bush's war powers to create a Military Commission to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, of Yemen. The Yemeni captive, who has a fourth-grade education, worked as a driver for the al-Qaida mastermind from 1996 until his capture in 2001. But he denies joining al-Qaida.

Moreover, Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote in a 22-page decision that, as chief executive and commander in chief, Bush could deny terrorism captives prisoner-of-war status as outlined by the Geneva Conventions.

The decision was the latest chapter in the 3-year-old legal struggle over presidential powers to detain and sometimes put on trial so-called enemy combatants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the court validated a Bush administration distinction “between terrorists and those who legitimately wage war.”

Hamdan's lawyers vowed to appeal. Both sides have said they expect the issue to ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The full 12-member Appeals Court could hear the case first. It was unclear, however, whether the Defense Department would reconvene its so-called Military Commissions in the interim. The defense team protested Friday's decision, saying it “gives the president the raw authority to expand military tribunals without limit, threatening the system of international law and armed conflict worldwide.” At issue is the Bush administration's decision to draw up a new formula for Military Commissions that borrows from both World War I and World War II experiences.

Friday's decision overruled U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson, a Navy veteran who was appointed by President Clinton. He ridiculed Bush's war court as providing fewer protections than the Pentagon's own Uniform Code of Military Justice and ruled that the president cannot unilaterally create commissions or confer a blanket category of enemy combatants on captives. The appeals court replied that, even if Congress has not formally declared war, it has granted the president power to craft a military commission. Friday's decision in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's driver, cleared the way for the military commissions to resume. Hamdan was the first to face a military trial in August 2004 after U.S. officials alleged that he helped the al Qaeda leader ferry weapons and flee after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has been charged with murder, terrorism, conspiracy to commit attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent.

According to a Pentagon news release, military proceedings will also resume against David Hicks, an Australian detainee who has been charged with conspiracy to commit attacks on civilians and civilian objects, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent, and aiding the enemy. Pentagon officials have said Hicks trained in Albania in 1999 with the Kosovo Liberation Army and fought for Albanian Muslims. He later converted from Christianity to Islam and in early 2001, attended al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon said it normally takes 50 days for an appeals court to issue a mandate that lifts a district court stay, such as in the Hamdan case. The administration might ask for an immediate mandate so commission trials could resume sooner.

In addition to Mr. Hamdan and Mr. Hicks, the Pentagon named two detainees as facing trial: Yemeni-born Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al Bahlul and Sudanese Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmound al Qosi. Each is charged with murder and conspiring to launch attacks on civilians.

Mr. Bush has designated eight other Guantanamo detainees for trial, and the Pentagon said charges would be filed. The special Office of Military Commissions at the Pentagon already has filed charges against Mr. Hamdan and Mr. Hicks.

The charges say Mr. Hamdan met bin Laden in 1996 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the spiritual headquarters of the hard-line Taliban regime. Mr. Hamdan became a bodyguard, driver and dispenser of weapons to al Qaeda members.

In Mr. Hicks' case, the charges say he converted to Islam from Christianity in Australia. He traveled to Afghanistan in early 2001 and attended al Qaeda terrorist training camps. He engaged in combat against U.S. forces before being captured.