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Articles and thoughts by Peter Holslin

66 Months for Hamdan

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It took an hour and a half to decide the fate of Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden’s former driver: 66 months imprisonment. He’s served most of his sentence already, so he’ll only actually be behind bars for five months. Nevertheless, the United States can detain him until the endless “war on terror” comes to an end.

“I would like to apologise one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me,” Hamdan reportedly told the jurors when he heard the verdict.

He was convicted of providing material support to terrorism, but not for committing conspiracy to murder Americans. The verdict is a limited victory for the Bush Administration – a tacit validation of the perfidious legal framework it set up after September 11, according to Jane Mayer’s great new book The Dark Side: the Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, to do what it pleases to anybody who might be considered a terrorist.

This is the first war crimes trial held by the United States since World War II and America has done something unprecedented: it put the war criminal’s chaperone on trial.

Like many points during the previous eight years of my life, this is a preposterous and nearly surreal event. Why, I wonder, didn’t America first try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the most definitive moment of my generation? We certainly have enough evidence of his crimes, obtained through torture, along with a laundry list of confessions.

There’s a relatively simple answer. All of this – Guantanamo Bay, the “enhanced interrogation” of “illegal enemy combatants,” trials held partially in secret, which accept evidence obtained through hearsay and coercion – is so ad hoc that it needs a trial run. So, to get things started, the tribunal takes on Bin Laden’s taxi-man, a family man and day laborer to the defense, an “Al Qaeda warrior” who served “as the last line of defense for Al Qaeda’s senior leadership” to the prosecution.

This is yet another definitive moment in American history. The sentencing is like a coronation for Hamdan’s martyrdom.

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that America could not deny Guantanamo detainees, who have been detained for years without being charged with a crime, the age-old write of habeas corpus. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006, stupidly ratified by Congress, threw that reasoned conclusion into the garbage. And now, taxi-man Hamdan is finally going to jail – setting off a protest by Amnesty International that seems to win the empathy of Hamdan’s own judge. “I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country,” Navy Capt Keith Allred, the tribunal’s judge, told Hamdan.

Meanwhile, in Gutananamo, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad awaits trial. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is stronger than it’s been in years. And somewhere out there, Osama Bin Laden is still in hiding. White House staffers aren’t dancing in the streets just yet, but a recent statement announced that, “We’re pleased that Salim Hamdan received a fair trial.”

Let me translate the double-speak: “fair” means “curbed” and “trial” means nothing.

Photo: Salim Hamdan, originally posted on the CNN.com.

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Written by Peter Holslin

August 8, 2008 at 5:15 am

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