Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamdan Sentenced in First Terror Tribunal

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hamdan Sentenced in First Terror Tribunal

Article excerpt

Osama bin Laden's former driver was sentenced on Thursday to five and a half years in prison at the conclusion of the first trial of a terror suspect by special military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The sentence, far below the 30 years to life sought by the US government, means that Salim Hamdan of Yemen could be eligible for release in five months after receiving credit for time already served.

The sentence is a double-edged sword for the Bush administration, which had hoped a harsh sentence in the Hamdan case would send a stern message to would-be Al-Qaeda sympathizers around the world. But the five-year sentence also underscores the fairness of the particular military panel in the Hamdan case, analysts say.

The sentence was handed down by a panel of six military officers, hand-picked by the Pentagon, who a day earlier rejected US government arguments that Mr. Hamdan was a terrorist conspirator.

Instead, the panel convicted Hamdan of providing material support to Al-Qaeda by continuing to serve as a driver and body guard to Bin Laden - even after he learned the group was involved in terrorism.

The panel announced the sentence after hearing testimony and argument from both prosecutors and defense lawyers. Mr. Hamdan read a statement during the hearing apologizing to the victims of the 9- 11 attacks.

"I don't know what could be given or presented to these innocent people who were killed in the US," Hamdan said, according to the Associated Press. "I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did have caused them pain."

Prosecutors had asked the panel to sentence Hamdan to at least 30 years in prison. Prosecutor John Murphy was quoted by the Associated Press as urging the panel to deliver a sentence that would keep American society safe from Hamdan.

The panel - the first US war crimes tribunal since World War II - was empowered to hand down a sentence anywhere from no punishment to life in prison. Military Judge Keith Allred, a Navy Captain, told the panel they could consider Hamdan's seven years in US detention and that he is the sole supporter of his wife and two children.

The five-year sentence raised immediate questions about whether the US government would make good on repeated suggestions that even if Hamdan was acquitted of all charges he could still be held at Guantanamo as an unlawful enemy combatant until the end of the war on terror. …

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