Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Uncontrollable Enthusiasm" serving bin Laden


Guantanamo Bay, Dec 07: Osama bin Laden's former driver and bodyguard said he felt an "uncontrollable enthusiasm" when working for the al Qaeda leader and helped him elude US retaliation after the September 11 attacks, a US federal investigator testified on early Friday.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo detainee facing war crimes charges, told agents he drove bin Laden and his son Othman when they evacuated their compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan, ahead of the attacks, investigators told a marathon pretrial hearing that lasted about 14 hours with frequent short recesses.

Although not initially with bin Laden on September 11, Hamdan returned to bin Laden's side and continued to drive him for weeks as he moved from city to city and house to house to avoid US efforts to retaliate, said Robert McFadden, a Defense Department special agent who interviewed him.

Hamdan heard bin Laden say he had expected up to 1,500 deaths in the attacks but was pleased to learn there were many more, said FBI agent George Crouch Jr., who interviewed Hamdan separately at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

McFadden said Hamdan told him he had pledged an ongoing oath of allegiance or "bayat" to bin Laden. Asked if Hamdan had described how he felt while serving bin Laden, the Defense Department agent said, "uncontrollable enthusiasm."

The comments from the agents came as a judge began hearing the first witnesses in a US military war crimes proceeding since the end of World War Two. The Guantanamo war crimes tribunals first convened in August 2004 but no witnesses were called in any previous hearings.

Unlawful enemy combatant

The testimony was part of a pretrial hearing to determine whether Hamdan is an unlawful enemy combatant who can be tried on war crimes charges in a US military tribunal set up to judge prisoners captured in the post-September 11, 2001, war on terrorism.

Army Maj. Henry Smith told the court earlier that Hamdan was wearing civilian clothes with no military markings when he was captured on November 24, 2001, at a checkpoint near Kandahar while driving a car carrying two anti-aircraft rockets without the launching mechanism.

Hamdan arrived at the checkpoint minutes after a white van carrying three Arabs had been stopped, Smith said. He said two of the men offered resistance, including one who tried to detonate a grenade, and were killed in a burst of gunfire.

The third man, Said Boujaadia, is also a Guantanamo detainee and testified under a grant of immunity. He contradicted Smith's testimony on the timing of the arrest and whether Hamdan was detained before or after him.

This is the military's third attempt to prosecute Hamdan on war crimes charges and comes six months after the judge in the case, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, dropped the previous charges against him.

Allred ruled in June that Hamdan had only been declared an enemy combatant and said he had no authority to decide whether the defendant was a lawful or unlawful combatant under a measure passed by Congress in 2006 to provide a legal basis for the war crimes trials formally known as military commissions.

An appeals court ruled in September that commission judges do have the authority to hear evidence and decide whether prisoners are unlawful enemy combatants. That led to a third attempt to prosecute Hamdan, who is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.

Only unlawful enemy combatants who are not citizens can be tried by a military commission, the law states. Lawful combatants, such as uniformed soldiers from countries at war with the United States, would have to be tried by court-martial or handled by other means, officials said.

Bureau Report

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