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A military jury in Guantanamo Bay convicted Osama bin Laden's former driver on charges of providing support for terrorism Wednesday but cleared him of conspiracy charges. Experts weigh the verdict.
The first military tribunal of a Guantanamo detainee delivers a split verdict. We get details on the outcome from Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. She joined me by phone a short time ago from Guantanamo Bay.
Carol Rosenberg, thank you for talking with us again. First of all, describe the scene in the courtroom today.
CAROL ROSENBERG, The Miami Herald:
It was a very, very somber affair. The accused, Salim Hamdan, had his head down, had his earphones on his head so he could hear the Arabic translation.
And it was a confusing, mixed-bag decision, so he picked up his headscarf and he wiped his eyes. And it was hard to tell whether he was sad or happy or just as confused as a lot of other people as they were trying to sort it out.
Now, remind us again exactly what he was charged with and then what the jury, military jury decided.
He was accused of two crimes, conspiracy as part of the al-Qaida global terror group and providing material support for terrorism, as Osama bin Laden's driver, bodyguard, and they said weapons courier.
Well, there were 10 counts in all, and they found him guilty of five counts. They didn't find any guilt whatsoever on the big conspiracy charge. They seemed to think that it was — it suggested that they didn't buy the argument that the driver in Afghanistan was part of the conspiracy that toppled the buildings in New York, or the suicide bombings of the USS Cole, or the embassy attacks.
But they found him guilty of being Osama bin Laden's driver and they found him guilty of being the bodyguard who enabled Osama bin Laden to be part of al-Qaida, the group that carried out those attacks.
So it was very much a split decision. Five counts acquitted, five counts convicted, and then, in the end, the judge decided to consolidate those five counts to a conviction of one count of providing material support for terror.
Now, one count can get him life in prison, so we have to wait and see what the jury decides after the sentencing hearing.
So, Carol, looking back on the trial, can you understand how the jurors came down the way they did?
There's a couple of issues here. One is that the judge told them that they had to decide that he was part of this giant conspiracy that would link him to September 11th and all these other attacks. And there was testimony that he didn't even know they were coming down and he only learned about them after the fact.
I mean, the testimony was based on his own interrogation across 18 months, from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. And he basically told FBI and other federal agents what he heard in the front seat of the car from the guys in the back seat about — that were almost like post-mortems on how these different attacks went down. But he didn't know what the targets were before these attacks took place.
Can you tell us any little bit about the jurors themselves, military jurors?
There were five men and a woman, three lieutenants, two colonels, and a Navy captain, who was the foreman. And they worked hard. They deliberated across three days, eight-and-a-half hours in deliberations, and these are people who have advanced college degrees. They've been in the military probably 20 years.
We don't know their names. They're protected. But, you know, they spent a fair amount of time diving through a 10-count charge sheet and figuring out which ones they were willing to convict on.
Now, right now, they're engaged in working on what the sentence should be. Tell us how that process is working.
Yes, you know, the jury convicts by majority, four out of six to sentence him to up to 10 years and, if they're to give him life in jail or 10 years on, they need five out of six of them.
So they're going to hear from a psychiatrist. They are hearing from a psychiatrist who's seen Salim Hamdan here at Camp Delta in Guantanamo. And she's describing his aspirations, that if he ever gets out of here, what he'd like to do, as a way — called by the defense to try to mitigate whatever sentence they're going to hand down.
Now, you've learned a little bit about — assuming he is going to be held — what the conditions are, where he would be detained going forward.
He's one of 265 men here held as war on terror captives, enemy combatants, but he's the only convict. So as the only convict, he can't be held with the other people.
So they have to create a separate system of detaining him here at Guantanamo as a war criminal, while the others are basically held as either pretrial — they want to charge 79 more of these guys and put them on trial — and they're held either as what they call enemy combatants, taken off the battlefield until the war on terror ends, or before their trial.
So they have to come up with a different system to hold him separately.
Well, Carol Rosenberg who's been reporting for us on this trial from Guantanamo Bay, thank you very much.
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