The first of the military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay’s detention center ended in a split decision today for Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan. Hamdan won acquittal on two counts of conspiracy, but his multiple convictions on material support will put him in prison for life:
A U.S. military jury Wednesday convicted Osama bin Laden’s driver of war crimes — making him the first war-on-terror captive convicted by contested tribunal at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The jury announced the verdict against Salim Hamdan at 10:16 a.m.
It cleared him of the more serious crime of conspiracy but convicted him of multiple counts of providing material support for terror.
Conviction can carry a maximum life imprisonment.
The same panel that convicted Hamdan will also sentence him. They took just over 6 hours to reach their complex decision, and one has to assume that sentencing will take an even shorter period of time. The man prosecutors described as an “al-Qaeda warrior” will almost certainly never see freedom again, having been with bin Laden through the attacks on the African embassies, USS Cole, and 9/11.
Hamdan’s case has been a test in several ways. He challenged his detention, forcing Congress and the Bush administration to re-engineer the tribunals twice. As a driver, he had less obvious culpability for the deaths of thousands of American civilians than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In the end, the verdict recognized the differences. They put aside emotion and acquitted him of being a member of the AQ conspiracy in these attacks, but recognized his role in supporting the organization.
Essentially, they recognized Hamdan as a smaller part of the terrorist group, but that doesn’t absolve him from responsibility for his support of AQ. The verdict demonstrates that the Gitmo tribunals are not kangaroo courts, and that justice can be found in this process.
Update: John McCain released a statement about the conviction:
I welcome today’s guilty verdict in the first trial held under the Military Commissions Act (MCA). This process of bringing terrorists to justice has been too long delayed, but I’m encouraged that it is finally moving forward. I supported that legislation, which was a good-faith effort by Congress to meet the Supreme Court’s direction to establish a process to bring terrorist detainees to trial. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a trusted confidante of Osama Bin Laden, was provided a full hearing of the charges against him and was represented by counsel who vigorously defended him. The jury found that the prosecution lawyers had proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hamdan had aided terrorists by supplying weapons to Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. This process demonstrated that military commissions can effectively bring very dangerous terrorists to justice. The fact that the jury did not find Hamdan guilty of all of the charges brought against him demonstrates that the jury weighed the evidence carefully. Unlike Senator Obama who voted against the MCA and favors giving Al Qaeda terrorists direct access to U.S. civilian courts to contest their detention, I recognize that we cannot treat dangerous terrorists captured on the battlefield as we would common criminals.
Haven’t seen one yet from Obama, but I’ll add it verbatim when I see it.