Guantanamo Jury Gives Hamdan Light Sentence

A military jury in Guantanamo Bay has sentenced Osama bin Laden's driver to 5 1/2 years in prison, making Salim Hamdan eligible for release in just six months. Hamdan was found guilty of supporting terrorism on Wednesday.

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A surprisingly light sentence EDS handed down today at the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan at Guantanamo Bay, and it didn't take the military jury long to reach its decision. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of at least 30 years. But Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to five and a half years. Taking into account the more than five years he's already served, Hamdan has just about five months to go. But the Bush administration has said it could continue to hold him indefinitely as an enemy combatant.

Yesterday, the same jury convicted Hamdan of giving material aid to terrorism, but Hamdan was acquitted of a more serious charge - conspiring with al-Qaida. NPR's John McChesney reports on today's sentencing from Guantanamo.

JOHN McCHESNEY: Before the verdict was announced, prosecutor John Murphy told the jury that Hamdan was faking tears when he saw the video of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Hamdan himself told the jury in an un-sworn statement that it was a sorry or sad thing to see innocent people killed. I don't know what could be given or presented to these innocent people who were killed in the U.S. I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did caused them pain.

Prosecutor Murphy said that his remorse was too little too late, that when you discover your boss is killing people, you leave. He told the jurors to remember the victims of al Qaida's attacks in the last second before they voted on a sentence. The judge instructed the jury to ignore the prosecution's showing of photos of attacks on embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole and the World Trade Center, saying Hamdan had been acquitted of conspiring to commit any of those attacks.

Both Hamdan and his defense lawyers raise the issue of the nine-month sentence for Australian David Hicks who was charged with the same events. Hicks served his nine months in Australia and has been released. Chief defense lawyer Charles Swift who has worked on the Hamdan case for five years taking it all away to the Supreme Court said that Hamdan's cooperation with investigators should be weighed in sentencing. Prosecutor Murphy referred to the videotapes of Hamdan immediately after his capture and said that he was uncooperative at that crucial time. Swift said Hamdan was afraid he was going to be killed. But as soon as he was reassured that that wouldn't happen, Hamdan switched sides. After the sentencing, Hamdan and his lawyer exchanged an embrace.

John McChesney, NPR News, Guantanamo Bay.

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Bin Laden's Driver Gets Short Prison Stint

More on Salim Hamdan

Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, was sentenced on Thursday to 5 1/2 years in prison for providing material support for terrorism. But he will serve only a few months.

Hamdan, a Yemeni with a fourth-grade education, will get credit for the 61 months he has already spent in custody while awaiting trial, according to the military judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred.

The sentence was recommended by the same six military jurors at Guantanamo Bay who convicted Hamdan on Wednesday of material support for terrorism but acquitted him of the more serious charge of conspiracy.

The sentence now goes for mandatory review to a Pentagon official, who can shorten the sentence — but not extend it.

It's unclear what will happen to Hamdan after he serves the time ordered Thursday. The U.S. government has, however, argued it can detain Hamdan and other "enemy combatants" indefinitely as long as the war on terrorism continues.

The trial was the first test of a war crimes tribunal authorized by the Bush administration to try non-U.S. captives on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts.

During the punishment phase of the trial earlier Thursday, prosecutors had asked the jury to sentence Hamdan to at least 30 years.

They urged jurors to consider life in prison and to make an example of the man. "The government asks you to deliver a sentence that will absolutely keep our society safe from him," said prosecutor John Murphy.

Hamdan, however, pleaded for the jury to spare him a harsh sentence, saying he never joined al-Qaida or knew in advance of its plots but joined bin Laden's motor pool in Afghanistan for the $200 monthly salary.

"I couldn't beg," Hamdan said, reading in Arabic from a prepared statement. "I had to work."

He said he was sorry for the deaths of innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Pentagon transcript. His apology was not heard by reporters because the sound was turned off to protect classified information.

Allred, who has described Hamdan as a "small player," previously ruled the defendant should receive five years of credit for time served at Guantanamo Bay.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press.

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