Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Bin Laden driver walks out of trial

JUSTICE The alleged al-Qaeda operative’s attorney said a prosecutor was claiming the Pentagon directed him to pursue cases that would seize the public’s imagination

AP, GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA

Osama bin Laden’s former driver walked out on his war-crimes tribunal on Tuesday, saying he did not believe justice was possible at the US military base where he has been held for nearly six years.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni, is the fourth alleged al-Qaeda operative at Guantanamo Bay to refuse to participate in the US’ first war-crimes courts since World War II — a system that he says lacks the fairness of traditional US courts.

“I do not want to come to this court because there is no such thing as justice here,” said Hamdan, who smiled as he explained his reasoning in a polite, 40-minute exchange with the judge.

The judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, said he empathized with Hamdan’s frustrations over his prison conditions and the delays in a trial that has been derailed twice by legal challenges. But he encouraged Hamdan not to fire his attorneys, saying they won a 2006 Supreme Court verdict with his case that struck down an earlier tribunal system.

“You beat the United States once in our system with these attorneys,” Allred said.

After a short recess, the pretrial hearing reconvened without Hamdan at the US Navy base in southeast Cuba.

Hamdan had been captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in the car.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hamdan’s lead defense attorney said that a second military prosecutor had accused a Pentagon official of manipulating the prosecution of war crime suspects.

The Pentagon official, Air Force Brigadier-General Thomas Hartmann, allegedly told the prosecutor that certain cases against Guantanamo prisoners should be pursued over others to sway public opinion, military defense lawyer Navy Lieutenant-Commander Brian Mizer said.

The prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Britt, made the allegation in an affidavit submitted in an internal Pentagon investigation of the Office of Military Commissions, which is in charge of prosecuting the Guantanamo prisoners.

Mizer read a portion of the affidavit in court as he seeks dismissal of the charges against Hamdan on the grounds that improper meddling by senior officials has tainted the tribunals.

Britt told the investigators that Hartmann, whose role is to give legal advice to the military commissions, directed him to pursue certain cases that would “seize the imagination of the American public,” Mizer said in court.

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