Salim Hamdan was convicted Aug. 6 by a panel of six US military officers at Guantánamo Bay of “providing material support for terrorism,” but acquitted of “conspiracy.” The sentencing hearing is due to begin immediately. He faces a maximum term of life imprisonment. However, the Pentagon confirmed beforehand that Hamdan would remain in indefinite detention as an “enemy combatant” regardless of the verdict.
Amnesty International says the conviction under procedures that do not meet international fair trial standards compounds the injustice of Hamdan’s more than six years’ unlawful detention. “We have consistently called for justice and security to be pursued within a framework of strict adherence to international law; however the US government has systematically failed in this regard,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty’s researcher on the USA. (Amnesty International, Aug. 6)
Salim Ahmed Hamdan was born 1970 in Wadi Hadhramaut, an oasis town in southeastern Yemen. The son of a Bedouin farmer and shopkeeper, he received little formal education after being orphaned at a young age. In 1996, with the offer of a regular salary and free passage, he joined a group to oust the Russian-backed government in Tajikistan. The men assembled in Afghanistan and asked for the aid of Osama bin Laden, who had recently arrived after being expelled from Sudan.
Hamdan was employed by bin Laden as a mechanic and driver, and he never made it to Tajikistan. With Osama’s blessing and pay guaranteed, he married a Yemeni girl and started a family. His wife’s sister was married to Nasser al-Bahri, who was arrested in 2000 on charges of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole.
In late November 2001, he was picked up near the border of Pakistan by a group of Afghan fighters and handed over to the US. At Guantánamo Bay, Hamdan made headlines last year with a court challenge that led the supreme court to declare the first military commissions authorized by George Bush unlawful. Congress subsequently passed legislation authorizing a new system of tribunals.
Lawyers for Hamdan argued at the time that Bush had violated basic military protections with his November 2001 executive order establishing the tribunals. Suspects brought before the tribunals did not have the right to a lawyer of their choice, or to see the evidence against them. Even if they were acquitted, the verdict could be reversed by the Defense Secretary.
Hamdan said that he was beaten, forced into painful positions, subjected to extreme cold temperatures and threatened with death in 2001 and early 2002. He also described being kept in such extreme isolation at Guantánamo that he once considered “pleading guilty in order to get out of here.”
After Hamdan won his landmark ruling against the first military commissions, he was again charged under the new tribunal system. (The Guardian, Aug. 6)