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Verdict in bin Laden driver war crimes trial

The jury in the Hamdan case gives a mixed result, but it's seen as a victory for Bush administration.

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Prosecutors countered that Hamdan was a trusted member of Bin Laden's inner circle. A criminal investigator with the Navy testified that Hamdan admitted under questioning that he'd sworn a loyalty oath to Bin Laden. When Hamdan was captured, soldiers found two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles in his car.

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Defense lawyers presented the written testimony of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, who is facing his own trial at Guantánamo. He told the commission that Hamdan was a civilian employee, not a holy warrior.

"He was a driver and auto mechanic … he was not at all a military man," Mr. Mohammed wrote.

Hamdan's conviction is important to the US government because it establishes a legal foundation within the controversial military commission system for future trials. It sets a relatively low bar for prosecutors, even if they have skimpy evidence.

It suggests that in future cases in which some evidence has been withheld to avoid disclosure of harsh interrogation methods or barred from trial because the information is deemed unreliable, military prosecutors might still obtain convictions on the theory that any involvement with Al Qaeda helped the group commit future terror attacks.

Hamdan is entitled to appeal his conviction in both military and civilian appeals courts. The appeal is expected to feature a comprehensive legal challenge to the military commission process. It is an appeal that could take the case to the US Supreme Court.

Legal analysts expect Hamdan's lawyers to challenge the government's use of material support as a war crime. In pretrial motions, they argued that Hamdan's alleged involvement with Al Qaeda is said to have occurred between 1996 and November 2001. But the Military Commissions Act designating material support as a war crime was not enacted until 2006. They argued that it amounts to an unconstitutional ex post facto law.

Even if he'd been acquitted of all charges, Hamdan was unlikely to be released from his Guantánamo cell anytime soon. In addition to the military commission charges, Hamdan is being held in open-ended detention as an unlawful enemy combatant.

Under the law of war, he can be held for the duration of the war on terror.

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said that regardless of the verdicts, the Hamdan trial was fatally flawed.

"Hamdan suffered nearly seven years of unlawful detention, only to face a process that falls far short," Mr. Cox said. The administration, he added, is continuing to try to "escape the rule of law and the requirements of justice" by relying on the commission process at Guantánamo.

"This system was devised to permit the prosecution of alleged wrongdoing by detainees, while continuing to cover up the wrongdoing by government interrogators," adds Mr. Romero of the ACLU. "Trials that are shrouded in secrecy and tainted by coercion are the very antithesis of American justice."