Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:55 pm (KSA) 16:55 pm (GMT)

Bin Laden's driver to receive POW review

Yemeni prisoner Hamdan was captured in 2004 near Kandahar (File)
Yemeni prisoner Hamdan was captured in 2004 near Kandahar (File)

A U.S. military judge agreed to decide whether Osama bin Laden's driver is a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions, a designation that could prevent the United States from trying him in the Guantanamo war crimes

The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said in a ruling on Monday that he would undertake a POW review for Yemeni prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who is charged in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.

If Hamdan is found to be a POW, he could be tried by court-martial, but not by the special military tribunals the United States set up at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to try non-U.S. citizens on terrorism charges.

Such a finding could cast further doubts on the widely criticized and still evolving Guantanamo court system that has yet to see a trial completed.

The lone conviction at Guantanamo was the result of a negotiated guilty plea for an Australian now serving a nine-month prison term in his homeland.

A Pentagon spokesman for the tribunals, formally known as military commissions, said Allred would make the determination based on evidence and briefings presented at a hearing at Guantanamo earlier this month, rather than convening a separate hearing.

Hamdan has acknowledged working as bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan for $200 a month but denies taking part in any terrorist attacks.

U.S. investigators said he drove bin Laden and one of his sons when they evacuated their compound near Kandahar in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hamdan was captured at a checkpoint near Kandahar on Nov. 24, 2001. Prosecutors say he was driving a car carrying two anti-aircraft rockets without the launching mechanisms.

Defense lawyers said he was a civilian driver and support worker who should be considered a prisoner of war and handled according to the Geneva Conventions outlining the treatment of war captives.

The Bush administration contends that the Guantanamo prisoners, who have been held for years without trial and now number about 290, are not entitled to POW protections because they are not members of the regular army of any nation.

But the military judge said the Geneva Conventions require the United States to conduct a formal judicial review to determine the POW status of detainees it proposes to punish for their participation in hostilities.

The military is making its third attempt to prosecute Hamdan, who was first charged in 2004 but twice won dismissal of the charges.

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