The US has released Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, to serve out the rest of the sentence he received from a military tribunal earlier this year. Hamdan helped change the direction of detention in the war on terror with his appeals in the federal court system and embarrassed the Pentagon by getting a light sentence and avoiding conviction on the most serious charges brought against him:
Former Osama bin Laden driver Salim Hamdan is being transferred from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to his home country of Yemen, a senior defense official said Monday.
Hamdan was convicted of aiding al-Qaida in August and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. He would be eligible for release in January with credit for time served.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said Hamdan will serve out the remainder of his sentence in Yemen.
I wouldn’t bet on that. Yemen has a habit of either releasing terrorists on their own recognizance or allowing them to “escape”. Intel agents believe that al-Qaeda has started to regroup in Yemen, and Hamdan may find a new job if the government there decides to treat him as kindly as they have other suspected AQ operatives.
The Bush administration had little choice, however. His light sentence of 66 months would have meant Hamdan would have walked away free in January. The Pentagon insists that it has the right to keep detainees in custody if the DoD determines that they represent a danger to the US. That may sound good in theory, but the Bush administration didn’t look enthusiastic about telling that to a federal judge, and by the end of January the new President, Barack Obama, would have been calling those shots anyway.
As I wrote in August, it may be that the sentence accurately reflected Hamdan’s status with AQ as just a flunky with a map and a car. Hopefully, we’ll see that when Yemen lets him run free within minutes of his arrival. Either way, unfortunately, we’re going to find out, and probably sooner than later.