Bin Laden's driver could be freed in five months

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Washington, Aug.8 : Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's former driver, who was jailed for five and a half years yesterday for supporting terrorism, could be freed in five months, reports The Scotsman.

Salim Hamdan was sentenced after he was found guilty of supporting terrorism following a ten-day trial at the US navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Because he has already served more than five years, Hamdan could be eligible for release in five months.

The Pentagon, however, has said he will still be retained as an "enemy combatant", arguing that such people can be detained indefinitely while the "war on terror" continues.

Hamdan was accused of transporting missiles for al-Qaeda and helping bin Laden escape by driving him around Afghanistan after the 11 September attacks.

Earlier, US prosecutors asked for Hamdan to be sentenced to at least 30 years.

According to the New York Times, the sentencing of Hamdan is the first for a detainee convicted after a war crimes trial since the Second World War.

Military Judge, Captain. Keith J. Allred of the Navy, had already said that he planned to give Hamdan, credit for at least the 61 months he has been held since being charged, out of more than six years in all.

The unexpectedly short sentence came after Hamdan was acquitted Wednesday of the most serious charge against him, conspiracy, having been convicted only of material support for terrorism.

The extraordinary conclusion to the first of the post-Sept. 11 war crimes trials - a case that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2006 blocking a prior effort to prosecute him - once again raised many of the questions that have long surrounded the Bush administration's military commission system here, which it plans to use to try another 80 detainees.

Supporters of the military commission system and military prosecutors here said the sentence proved that the Bush administration's system for trying detainees was legitimate and fair.

Defense lawyers described the verdict as a victory propelled by the military officers on the panel, but they said it did not remedy what they have described as the system's flaws.

It took just over an hour of deliberations to arrive at the sentence. A panel of six senior military officers returned to the windowless tribunal room with their sentence on the single war crimes charge on which they convicted him, providing material support to a terrorist organization.

After the president of the panel, the most senior officer, read the sentence, Mr. Hamdan rose at the defense table, collected himself and spoke. Referring to an apology he had made to victims of terrorism on Thursday morning in the same room, he began, "I would like to apologize one more time."

Earlier he had told the military panel that he had continued working for bin Laden only because he felt he had no options and was trapped "between two fires," fearing arrest for his ties to Mr. bin Laden or further involvement in his activities.

The Bush administration has not announced its long-term intentions for Hamdan.

The panel's decision was the second short sentence handed down here. Last year, in the only other military commission case that has been completed, an Australian detainee, David Hicks, pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism in exchange for a nine-month sentence.

ANI

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