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Homeland Security

Former Bin Laden Driver Pleads Not Guilty at Guantanamo Trial

By VOA News
21 July 2008

A man who once chauffeured al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has pleaded "not guilty" before a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Officials say Salim Hamdan of Yemen entered his plea Monday at the opening of the trial. Hamdan is the first U.S.-designated "enemy combatant" to face such a trial.

He is charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Hamdan's attorneys say he was a driver for Osama Bin Laden but was not involved in any terrorist activity. Prosecutors say he was close to al-Qaida's inner circle and accuse him of helping Bin Laden escape justice following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Hamdan's lawyers have attempted unsuccessfully to have the charges against him dismissed and have questioned the legality of the controversial military tribunal process.

In a lawsuit brought by Hamdan's attorneys, the Supreme Court struck down the first military commission system in 2006, ruling that it was not authorized by federal law and violated the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, under which Hamdan is now being tried.

Unlike in U.S. civilian criminal trials, some coerced and hearsay evidence is allowed under the revised military commissions and an acquittal is not likely to result in the defendant being released.

The jury is being selected from a pool of 13 U.S. military officers brought to Guantanamo from posts around the world. The final panel will consist of at least five jurors.

Hamdan's trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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