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Agence France Presse

'Split Verdict' Reached At Guantanamo Tribunal


US NAVAL BASE AT GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Military jurors on Wednesday found Osama bin Laden's former driver guilty of providing material support to terrorism in the first US war crimes trial since World War II.0806 01 1

But the jury found Salim Hamdan not guilty on a count of conspiracy, in the first case before the special tribunals created by President George W. Bush to try suspects in the "war on terror."

He faced a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.

His trial is seen as an important test of the controversial military commission system set up by the George W. Bush administration.

During two week proceedings, Justice Department prosecutor John Murphy described Hamdan as among the worst of bin Laden's henchmen.

"He's an al-Qaeda warrior. He has wounded, and the people he has worked with have wounded the world," Murphy told the jury.

But Hamdan's lawyers, who have already announced they will appeal, argued that although he served as bin Laden's driver, Hamdan was not implicated in any terrorist activity.

"We will capture or kill Osama bin Laden some day. You should not punish the general's driver today with the crimes of the general," the Yemeni man's court-appointed military attorney, Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, told the court.

Human Rights Watch slammed the proceedings as marred by irregularities and built-in handicaps, making it all but impossible for Hamdan to get a fair hearing.

"A trial that depends on handicapping the defense can't possibly be fair," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.

"The military judge tried at times to mitigate the commission's most unjust rules, but the flaws in the system won out."

Throughout the trial, Hamdan sat at the defense table, wearing a white skullcap and a a headset for translation into his native Arabic, wearing a white gown and a scarf draped across his shoulders.

Under the US Military Commissions Act of 2006, it takes a two-thirds majority -- or four of the six officers on the jury panel -- to convict.

The administration of President George W. Bush set up the special military commissions in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The military commissions were invalidated in 2006 by the Supreme Court, only to be restored a few months later by the US Congress.

They have since been struck by a series of legal battles and hitches -- including a June Supreme Court decision that granted foreign terror suspects captured abroad the right to challenge their detention in US courts -- that have pushed back the opening of Hamdan's lawsuit, and perhaps others to come.

The indictment against Hamdan, who is about 40 years old, alleged that he met bin Laden in the Afghan city of Kandahar in 1996 and "ultimately became a bodyguard and personal driver" for the Al-Qaeda leader.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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