A U.S. federal appeals court has thrown out the terrorism conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who served a prison term for material support for terrorism.
In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court said that material support for terrorism was not an international-law war crime at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity for which he was convicted.
In the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two, Hamdan was found guilty in August on one count of providing material support to terrorism, but cleared of more serious charges that he conspired and plotted attacks for Al-Qaeda. Hamdan was convicted of providing personal services in support of terrorism.
Hamdan was sentenced to 66 months in prison but given credit for time served at Guantanamo. His term was to end by Dec. 31 and the Pentagon said the remainder would be served in Yemen.
In the first Guantanamo terrorism trial, a jury of six U.S. military officers sentenced Hamdan to five years and six months for supporting terrorism by driving and guarding bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda. Taking into account time served, this amounted to another five months.
Hamdan, who is about 40, was detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 and arrived at Guantanamo in 2002.
He was bin Laden's former driver and sometime bodyguard, but said he took the job because he needed the $200 monthly salary and did not know or support his employer's aims.
He was the first prisoner convicted in a full trial of the widely-criticized tribunals established to try non-Americans on terrorism charges outside civilian and military courts at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
About 100 of the 250 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo are from Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral home. Yemen, a poor Arab state seen by some in the West as a militant stronghold, joined the U.S.-led anti-terror war after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.
The Guantanamo tribunals have been condemned by human rights groups and U.S. scholars who say they were rigged to convict by allowing evidence obtained through coercion, hearsay and torture and retroactive laws.