Fri, Aug 01, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Bin Laden's driver denies giving oath to al-Qaeda leader

AP , GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, CUBA

A former driver for Osama bin Laden denied on Wednesday that he had sworn an oath of loyalty to the al-Qaeda leader, contradicting potentially damaging testimony from a US Defense Department interrogator.

Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, testified at his war crimes trial that a nine-hour interrogation in May 2003 focused almost entirely on whether he swore an Islamic oath, or bayat, to his boss, but he refused to discuss the topic.

“I never talked to them about this issue,” Hamdan told the judge through an Arabic interpreter. “I never pledged allegiance.”

Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, is evaluating whether the interrogation is tainted by coercion and therefore inadmissible as evidence at the first American war crimes trial since World War II. He said he would issue a ruling yesterday.

If the judge allows the jury to hear testimony of Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Robert McFadden, it would contradict the defense lawyers’ claim that Hamdan was merely a low-level bin Laden employee with no allegiance to al-Qaeda.

McFadden said he would testify that Hamdan acknowledged taking “an oath of allegiance to bin Laden and the cause, the cause being expelling Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula.”

Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 with two surface-to-air missiles in the car.

He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

Allred, who has dismissed other statements Hamdan made under “coercive” conditions, said he would hold this interrogation to a high standard to penalize the government for delivering hundreds of pages of prison records after court-imposed deadlines.

“You’re on the hot seat,” Allred told prosecutors.

Prosecutors said they have taken steps to prevent future delays and should not lose a vital piece of evidence as punishment.

McFadden, an Arabic speaker, is the only one of nearly a dozen US agents to testify at trial that Hamdan swore the loyalty oath.

Hamdan is one of 21 prisoners facing charges at Guantanamo.

His defense team has been sifting through more than 1,000 pages of new records, some of them delivered after the start of trial, for material supporting Hamdan’s allegations he was subjected to sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and sexual humiliation during more than six years at Guantanamo.

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