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Agent: Driver pledged allegiance to bin Laden

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — In a key victory for the Pentagon prosecution, a federal agent was allowed to testify Thursday that Osama bin Laden's driver confessed to him here in 2003 that he had sworn a pledge of allegiance to his boss, the al Qaeda godfather.

''He said he pledged bayat to Osama bin Laden,'' Robert McFadden, an agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said at the terror trial of the driver, Salim Hamdan, 37, of Yemen.

McFadden was allowed to relate the information to the six-member jury of U.S. military officers — who themselves have sworn to ''protect and defend the Constitution of the United States'' — after weeks of tug of war between defense and prosecution at the first U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II.

The military judge, Capt. Keith Allred, announced at the opening of the ninth day of trial that he had reversed his provisional ruling that the May 2003 interrogation "was obtained by the coercive measures.''

And he allowed the testimony, which he had at first suppressed, to be admitted.

Later Thursday, the court released Allred's five-page ruling on why he allowed the agent to testify. Nearly all of it was censored. Four full paragraphs were released, and parts of two others.

McFadden, a long-serving federal agent who testified to proficiency in Arabic, described a day-long interrogation in a trailer at Camp Delta with himself, Hamdan and a former federal agent, Ali Soufan, born in Lebanon. All three men sat on the floor, tribal style, he said, offered the driver tea and Fig Newtons, and the conversation began to flow.

Hamdan reportedly told him of the pledge of bayat -- something no other agent has described in court -- during the nearly nine-plus-hour conversation, but the father of four with a fourth-grade education added a hitch.

Under his oath, said McFadden, ``the jihad must remain expelling the Jews and Christians, killing the Jews and Christians, and expelling them from the Arabian Peninsula.''

But, McFadden said Hamdan said he could not support a holy war turning Muslim against Muslim, a "political type of violence.''

"He reserved the right to withdraw from that bayat.''

Hamdan has denied being an al Qaeda member, or swearing the oath. His lawyers say he was working for bin Laden for wages, not ideology.

He is charged with conspiring in a string of terror attacks, ending in Sept. 11, 2001, for allegedly serving as driver, sometime bodyguard and occasional weapons courier, as well as providing material support for terror.

McFadden also testified that during the course of the interrogation Hamdan spoke of the al Qaeda founder's charisma, and described experiencing an ''uncontrollable passion or zeal'' while working with bin Laden.

McFadden expanded on earlier testimony. He told jurors that Hamdan told him he experienced the same emotion on learning about al Qaeda's three major international terror attacks -- the August 1998 East Africa embassies bombing, the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole off Yemen and 9/11. Between the three, more than 3,000 people were killed.''

''It instilled the brothers,'' McFadden said, quoting Hamdan.

The judge did not allow prosecutor John Murphy, on loan to the Pentagon by the Department of Justice, to let the jurors read letters the military says it found in Hamdan's car after his November 2001 capture.

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