Bin Laden’s driver sentenced to more than five years

August 8th, 2008 - 3:55 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 8 (DPA) A US military jury in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Thursday sentenced the former driver for Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Salim Hamdan, to five years and six months in prison following his conviction for providing military support for terrorism. A six-officer military jury delivered the relatively short sentence despite a request by prosecutors to send the Yemeni to prison for at least 30 years and possibly for life.

The judge credited Hamdan, 37, with 61 months for the time he has been held at Guantanamo, meaning there are only five months remaining in his sentence. The Pentagon, however, could continue to hold Hamdan once his prison term is over under a separate legal process that designated him as an “enemy combatant.”

Hamdan had taken the stand earlier asking for leniency, telling the panel that he only took the job from bin Laden because he needed the money to support his family.

Hamdan testified one day after he was convicted of providing material support for terrorism. He was found not guilty of the more serious charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism, but still faced a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The jury concluded that Hamdan was guilty after a trial that lasted just more than two weeks.

Hamdan’s case was the first to go to trial in the military commissions ordered by President George W. Bush, and also the beginning of the first US military tribunals since World War II.

Hamdan is the second conviction under the commissions. Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty in 2007 and was sent back to his native country to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He is now free.

Hamdan was captured in 2001 in Afghanistan and has been held at Guantanamo since May 2002. He is among the 20 of Guantanamo’s 265 detainees facing war crimes charges. The Pentagon plans to charge an additional 80 suspects.

The US government alleges that Hamdan, a Yemeni, was a member of Al Qaeda terrorist network leader Osama bin Laden’s inner circle and was aware of terrorist plots. The defence argued that Hamdan merely served as a driver and was not involved in terrorism.

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