First Guantanamo War Crimes Trial Begins The first Guantanamo war crimes trial has begun. Salim Hamdan — Osama bin Laden's former driver — is accused of helping al-Qaida. Hamdan has denied the charge. Carol Rosenberg, the Miami Herald's reporter in Guantanamo Bay, talks about the trial.
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First Guantanamo War Crimes Trial Begins

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First Guantanamo War Crimes Trial Begins


First Guantanamo War Crimes Trial Begins

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The man on trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba today once served as Osama bin Laden's driver - at least that's the view of U.S. authorities who held him since shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Salim Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan. Now, he is the first person to face an American war crimes trial as part of the war on terror. The complexities of that trial became apparent yesterday when the judge threw out some of Hamdan's statements under interrogation.

We're going to go to Miami Herald report Carol Rosenberg, who is covering the trial at Guantanamo. Good morning.

Ms. CAROL ROSENBERG (Reporter, Miami Herald): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly were the statements that the judge threw out and the conditions under which they were obtained?

Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, for starters, he said that every single interrogation that took place in Bagram, Afghanistan before Salim Hamdan was taken to Guantanamo is gone. They're gone. They can't come into court. And if you recall the movie "Taxi to the Dark Side," Bagram was a pretty crude, nasty place when the Americans were doing some interrogations early on in the war on terror.

INSKEEP: This is shortly after 9/11. This is a time when the rules are still being set and emotions are pretty high.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Yeah, no. I mean, it's their - it was clear from pretrial evidence, this was a period when there was isolation. Salim Hamdan says there were threats of violence, that he heard about the death of another detainee, and that it was a scary place. And that at the beginning there were FBI and other federal agents coming and going talking to whoever the military brought down the trail from the detention center at Bagram.

INSKEEP: We're talking live with Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald about the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan. We should mention that a lot of the evidence is staying in, including some of Hamdan's statements obtained at Guantanamo Bay, not in Afghanistan. This leads to the next question, Carol Rosenberg: How does this war crimes trial work?

Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, yesterday, the first day of this trial, the lawyers and the driver and the judge agreed on a six-officer jury - three colonels, three lieutenant colonels from the U.S. military, Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. And they will hear evidence brought by a Pentagon prosecutor - a team, four Pentagon prosecutors. And the driver will be defended by a five-lawyer American team, including a Navy lieutenant commander in uniform, and then the jury about a month from now, maybe three weeks from now, will deliberate on whether or not he has committed two war crimes.

INSKEEP: So the judgment is made by six American military officers. Do they have to be unanimous in their decision?

Ms. ROSENBERG: No. It's a two-thirds majority. And he's facing life in prison. Future trials are going to involve seeking the death penalty.

INSKEEP: And what exactly are the charges against this man, according to prosecutors?

Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, they've got two war crimes that they're alleging. One is conspiracy, saying that as part of the al-Qaida inner circle and having lived and worked inside the world of Osama bin Laden, he is a co-conspirator in some of the biggest al-Qaida atrocities in the past 15 years, 20 years. And then he's also accused of providing material support for terror as a supposed weapons runner when the was driving for bin Laden, and as a sometimes bodyguard, member of his security detail -meaning when they drove bin Laden around Afghanistan in a convoy, he wasn't just a driver, the government alleges. He was also part of his security team.

INSKEEP: Is there any evidence against Hamdan, strong evidence, other than his own statements, some of which have been throw out and others of which the defense, at least, have tried to throw into question?

Ms. ROSENBERG: The defense says no. The defense says if they succeed in getting rid of one more interrogation, which is still - the judge is still deciding on, which was, like, the closer interrogation in May '03, that if they succeed in getting that one thrown out, the government's going to have a hard time persuading the jury that he's guilty of this broad, broad conspiracy.

INSKEEP: Carol, thanks very much.

Ms. ROSENBERG: Sure, thank you.

INSKEEP: Carol Rosenberg is a Miami Herald reporter covering the first trial in the military tribunal system.

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