Defense rests in Guantanamo trial of bin Laden's driver

Miami HeraldAugust 1, 2008 

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Confessed al Qaeda kingpin Khalid Sheik Mohammed testified on paper Friday in the defense of Osama bin Laden's driver -- and the defense rested in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II.

''He was not a soldier, he was a driver,'' Mohammed said in an English translation of his written testimony.

"He was not fit to plan or execute. But he is fit to change trucks' tires, change oil filters, wash and clean cars and fasten cargo in pickup trucks.''

Deliberations by the jury of six U.S. military officers could start as soon as Monday.

Lawyers for driver Salim Hamdan, 37, of Yemen called eight witnesses in all. They included written answers to defense lawyers questions sent to the war court from Mohammed and alleged fellow 9/11 co-conspirator Walid bin Attash and the testimony of two Special Forces officers deemed so sensitive that a court security officer cleared the public from the courtroom.

Prosecutors called 14 witnesses. Ten were federal agents who described Hamdan's admissions across 15 months of interrogations from Afghanistan to Guantánamo. Those accounts of the driver's own words were the foundation of the Pentagon prosecutor's case, which accuses the driver of conspiracy in al Qaeda attacks from 1998 and providing material support to terrorism.

For the defense, attorney Harry Schneider explained Friday that Mohammed and bin Attash chose not to testify in person. Both were held for years by the CIA, and Mohammed was waterboarded as part of a U.S. government approved ''enhanced interrogation'' regime and are now segregated at Guantánamo.

Defense lawyers had wanted Mohammed and bin Attash, both facing death penalty charges as alleged senior conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to sit in the witness box and say out loud that the driver was neither a party to it nor an al Qaeda insider.

Instead, for 30 minutes, the six senior U.S. officers sat inside the jury box reading their words.

Still to come were closing arguments by the lawyers, instructions from the judge to the six-member jury of U.S. military officers -- and a verdict.

The maximum penalty for the crimes alleged is life in prison.

If Hamdan is convicted, the commission will then hold a second, mini-trial with potential victim testimony to decide the punishment.

Under military commissions law, the judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, sends the officers to deliberate after explaining to them how to apply the law to the facts.

Allred said Friday morning that he would write his instructions over the weekend and give them Monday.

''I envision you being able to begin your deliberations on Monday afternoon,'' the judge told the jurors before giving them the weekend off. ``We will wait until you are ready. Take as long as you want.''

Allred also excused an Army major who had specialized in psychological operations who had sat in the back row as an alternate in case one of the six jurors could not deliberate.

The jury chosen two weeks ago includes: A Navy captain as foreman; an Army colonel; an Air Force colonel; a Marine lieutenant colonel' and two Army lieutenant colonels.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service