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Hamdan, bin Laden's driver, makes it back to Yemen

The Pentagon announced late Tuesday that Osama bin Laden's driver had been returned to Yemen, his homeland, to serve out the last month of his war crimes sentence and, in all probability, return to the career that made him infamous -- driving.

Salim Hamdan's journey from Guantanamo, where he'd been imprisoned seven years, took 18 hours from the time his plane took off until it's arrival in Sanaa, Yemen's capital.

U.S. officials had told him he'd be returning to his homeland for the final month of his sentence three days earlier.

''He was very much in a state of disbelief,'' said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Hamdan's Pentagon appointed defense lawyer.

Hamdan's lawyers successfully sued President George W. Bush over detainee rights. But the father of two with a fourth-grade education had insisted for years that he wanted to rejoin his family -- not make history.

The family reunion must wait a month. Under the repatriation agreement, revealed by the Defense Department late Tuesday, Hamdan's prison sentence ends on Dec. 27 -- at the same time as a Yemeni cooling-off period being established for returning jihadists.

Hamdan's American lawyers said late Tuesday they were not told of where or how their client would be imprisoned in Yemen. Nor were they told how he was confined or guarded during his journey home.

Hamdan spoke with his attorneys by phone from Guantanamo for an hour on Sunday with a long-serving U.S. guard Hamdan had nicknamed ''Scooby'' in the room, his lawyers said.

Hamdan was emotional, distrustful, at one point punctuated the conversation with a shout of ''All Rise'' -- a signature joke he shared with guards, mimicking the bailiff at his summertime trial.

Last time Mizer saw Hamdan, weeks ago, the convicted war criminal had grown his hair into a huge Afro, six inches in all directions. The lawyer said Hamdan intended to return to Sanaa sporting it.

Mizer predicted Hamdan would spend family time with his wife and daughters aged 9 and 7, the youngest born during his U.S. captivity.

And then he expected that he would return to work -- as a driver -- of a minibus or taxi known as a dabab in Yemen.

''I think he'll probably return to driving a cab or a dabab, which is what he did before he went to Afghanistan,'' said the Navy lawyer. "He really is that simple Yemeni cab driver with a fourth grade education, a father of two. There's nothing more to that guy than that. He just wants to return home and be with his family. I don't think there's any sense of his place in history on his part.''

Still, Hamdan did make history.

In 2004, he became the first war-on-terrorism detainee to be charged with war crimes by the Bush administration at its makeshift military commissions. And it was in his name that U.S. attorneys took the tribunal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled it unconstitutional.

He was then among the first group charged again in a new congressionally enacted commissions format -- and the first convicted of war crimes by a military panel. His case was heard this summer by six senior U.S. officers.

Prosecutors argued that Hamdan was a central figure, a bodyguard and member of the al Qaeda inner circle whose work abetted bin Laden's global terror network.

The jury found Hamdan's work supported terror -- but did not conspire in it -- after trial testimony showed he learned of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks afterward, while driving the boss and some of the attack's planners.

But military jurors scoffed at prosecutors' request for a 30-year prison term. Instead, they ordered him to serve a total of 66 months confinement knowing that, with credit for time served, Hamdan would go home to Yemen before Bush left the White House.

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