A military judge declared Osama bin Laden's former driver an "unlawful enemy combatant" in a ruling released Thursday, clearing the way the driver to be tried on war crimes charges in May before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Hours later, the military filed charges against another Guantanamo detainee, an alleged al Qaeda conspirator whose brother-in-law reportedly was among the hijackers who slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The back-to-back moves underscored the Defense Department's determination to speed up trials for suspected terrorists being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo.
The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said there's credible evidence that Salim Hamdan, 37, of Yemen, was bin Laden's personal driver from 1997-2001 in Afghanistan and was captured driving toward the battle of Kandahar in November 2001 with surface-to-air missiles in his car.
"There being no constitutional impediment to the commission's exercise of jurisdiction over him� the accused may be tried by military commission," Allred said.
Hamdan, a father of two with a fourth-grade education, is charged with conspiracy and supporting terrorism for allegedly serving as the al Qaeda chieftain's bodyguard and a sometimes courier for weapons. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his earlier military commissions as unconstitutional.
The Pentagon said that Hamdan's trial would be held from May 28 to June 8. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The charges against Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Mohammed al Darbi, 32, of Saudi Arabia, allege that he was part of an unrealized plot to bomb a ship in the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf or off the coast of Yemen. The charge sheet alleges that he traveled between Pakistan and the Gulf from 2000 to 2002 and bought a boat, global positioning satellite equipment and other supplies for the plot.
Darbi, however, lost his nerve while sailing toward Yemen in May 2002 and instead set a course for Somalia. Pentagon documents say he was born in Taif, Saudi Arabia, on Jan. 9, 1975, and arrived at the remote prison camp in southeast Cuba in March 2003, but don't say where or how he was captured.
At Guantanamo, he accused an Army private of beating, kicking and sexually humiliating him while he was a prisoner at Bagram air base in Afghanistan in December 2002.
The soldier was cleared after his lawyers got into the record that Darbi was the brother-in-law of Khalid al Midhar, who was among the hijackers who commandeered the plane that struck the Pentagon.
The United States holds about 285 prisoners at Guantanamo, and the legal advisor for the military commissions recently told Congress that the Pentagon plans to bring as many as 90 of them to trial.
The only trial held so far, of Australian David Hicks, had barely opened when Hicks pleaded guilty in return for a nine-month sentence to be served in Australia. He's scheduled to be set free later this month.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)
ON THE WEB
Read the charges against Ahmed Mohammed al Darbi.