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Terrorism & Security

Legal debate continues after the first conviction of a Guantánamo detainee

A mixed verdict against Salim Ahmed Hamdan has his defense lawyers preparing to appeal to federal civilian courts.

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Hamdan's attorneys maintain their client's innocence. They say that the crimes he has been convicted of amount only to acting within his capacity as Bin Laden's driver and do not constitute war crimes. They also say his conviction under a legal regime created five years after his arrest in 2001 is an illegal case of retroactive prosecution. Under the Military Commissions Act, Hamdan's conviction is automatically appealed to a higher military body. After that, lawyers say they will appeal to a federal civilian court, reports Agence France-Presse.

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Defense lawyers said they would appeal and were optimistic the case would be taken up by federal civilian courts, which have previously questioned the administration's prosecution and treatment of Guantanamo inmates.
"I am very confident that this will go on appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia if nothing else to challenge many aspects of this system," said military lawyer Brian Mizer from Hamdan's defense team....
They also argue that Hamdan was convicted under a law adopted in 2006, which established the military commissions, long after he was captured in 2001 in Afghanistan.

Prior to his conviction, Hamdan's defense succeeded in getting the judge to subtract five years from his sentence to account for the time he has spent in detention at Guantanamo. But the agreement may have little effect. The Bush administration has signaled that even in the event of a full acquittal on appeal, defendants such as Hamdan, who are considered enemy combatants, can be held until the end of the war on terror. In practice, that could mean an indefinite detention, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Despite the potential for a sentence less than or equal to the time he already has served, Hamdan has been told by his lawyers of the Bush administration's intent to keep all branded "enemy combatants" detained indefinitely, regardless of any acquittals.
Swift said that position would be challenged vigorously by the defense.

Hamdan, who reportedly possesses only a fourth-grade education and cannot ascertain his exact age, was not involved in the planning or execution of any terrorist actions, maintain his lawyers. The tribunal's judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, seemed to agree. In a sentencing hearing that followed Hamdan's conviction, Captain Allred refused to allow an FBI agent to testify about his experiences at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2001. He said that Hamdan was "such a small player" in Al Qaeda that the events of the day were not relevant to his specific case, reports Reuters.

Later in the sentencing hearing, the court heard from psychiatrist Emily Keram, who interviewed Hamdan for more than 120 hours during his five years of detention at Guantanamo. According to USA Today, Dr. Keram testified that Hamdan was a poor man, drawn to working for bin Laden because he hoped to use the high salary to start a family. When he learned about Al Qaeda's attacks on civilians, Keram says he felt "betrayed."

Orphaned at age 10 and with little family in Yemen, Hamdan dropped out of school and spent years in Yemen's capital, Sana, driving a taxi. Keram said Hamdan was desperate to start a family. Yemeni custom demands a payment of thousands of dollars to a family for the right to marry a woman, and his job would never make him that much.
That's when he "found" bin Laden, Keram testified. He was paid $100 to $150 a month to drive him, and bin Laden gave him $1,000 to help with the payment to his future wife's family.
Hamdan twice left Afghanistan and spent months with his family, Keram said. Not only was he disinterested in the holy war being waged against the United States by al-Qaeda, but he told Keram he couldn't understand some of the religious overtures being discussed all around him.
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