Bin Laden's driver walks out on terror trial

The Miami HeraldJuly 23, 2008 

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Osama bin Laden's driver walked out of his terror trial Wednesday rather than watch prosecutors show a video of his first U.S. interrogation, in Afghanistan in November 2001.

Three guards rushed to their feet and surrounded Salim Hamdan, 37, as he stood at the defense table within a minute of the start of the video.

The interrogation shows Hamdan, with a trim black beard, sitting cross-legged on the cement floor of a nondescript room — a Special Forces soldier over Hamdan's right shoulder holding an assault rifle.

Hamdan's hands are bound in front of him. The room is slightly illuminated by natural light. Unidentified military personnel put a bag over his head as they remove him from his first interrogation session.

Hamdan's defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, has said he believes that his client is the first Arab captured in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan -- and the video is the first recorded interrogation.

The interrogator, who sounds like an American speaking learned Arabic, is out of the picture. The face of the soldier guarding him is obscured by a black mask.

In it, Hamdan is evasive, and says he is in Afghanistan for a charity called Wafa. He agrees with his interrogator that there were surface-to-air missiles in his car. But he said he had borrowed the car, and didn't think it was a problem.

Moreover, he does not offer that he is bin Laden's driver.

Hamdan asked to be removed from the courtroom after proclaiming that, in his absence, his lawyers cannot speak for him. He had earlier threatened to boycott his trial, and impose those conditions on his five-member defense team.

''It sounds like Mr. Hamdan doesn't want to watch the video,'' said Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain presiding at the war crimes trial.

He then addresses the Yemeni who is accused of conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terror:

''We're going to watch the video this afternoon because it has been admitted into evidence and is going to be showed to the members,'' he said.

''I'm going to find that the defendant is waiving his right to be present this afternoon and excuse himself from the courtroom,'' he said.

Then he instructed the guards to escort Hamdan.

As he left, at 3:45 p.m., the judge called out: ``I'll see you in the morning, Mr. Hamdan.''

He then instructed the prosecution, ``Press the play button.''

Hamdan's trial began Monday, after the sides agreed on a six-member military jury, called a commission, of three colonels and three lieutenant colonels. Conviction could carry life in prison.

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