Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Prosecution of Bin Laden’s Driver | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The US government recommended a 30-year prison sentence for defendant Salim Hamdan, whereas the six US military court officers decided to sentence him to five and a half years only. I believe that the defendant himself, who was said to have worked as a driver for Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, had expected to be sentenced to death by hanging.

Was this the best that could be achieved after years of combating terror, which has shaken the world?

The revival of the military tribunal system in the United States for the first time since the end of World War II confirms the seriousness of the matter. There has been a lot of controversy over this issue, because the Americans could have settled for civil prosecutions, considering that the victims of the 11 September attacks were Americans and that the attacks took place on US soil, thus justifying the pursuit and capture of the perpetrators of these attacks anywhere in the world.

Was this trial an erroneous start and the proof of this is that not even a military commission has succeeded in finding anything against the first defendant that deserves a harsh punishment? Or was it a new starting point for prosecuting someone who is more than just a driver, all the way to prosecuting leaders like Khalid al-Sheikh Muhammad and Bin-Shibah?

Perhaps the goal was to soothe souls and emphasize the justness of the military system, especially since most military tribunals in the world are known for their death-by-hanging sentences. These courts do not give defendants a real chance to defend themselves and are established in the first place in an effort to settle scores with opponents or intimidate others, far from civil courts, where procedures are long and cautious and where defendants and their attorneys enjoy many rights, foremost among which is the right to obtain the kind of information that may prove them guilty or innocent. If the goal behind choosing Salim Hamdan as the first defendant to appear before this tribunal was to merely soothe souls and prove the excellence of the tribunal and its prosecution system, then this step has not yielded such a positive effect. Rather, it has disappointed two categories of people: The first category reacted to the tribunal by reiterating that Guantanamo prisoners are innocent and that some of them are victims of a political attack. They noted that the defendant has only a fourth-grade education and that investigators have failed to find any evidence implicating him in any crime whatsoever. The second category of people believes that Al-Qaeda is the greatest danger of all and that harsh punishments must be imposed. These people reject the saying that the man was merely the driver of the leader of terrorism and believe that the tribunal is weak in terms of its members and the punishment it imposed.

The important thing is that the inauguration of the tribunal has marked the end of the first long stage; that is, the stage of hunting down criminals, and has marked the start of a new stage; that is, the stage of prosecuting these criminals. The first stage has ended, yet without capturing Al-Qaeda leader or his deputy and without eliminating Al-Qaeda. This is despite the fact that over a decade has passed since the start of the pursuit against terrorists under President Bill Clinton following the attack on the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The many incidents that followed have proved that combating terror is not manifest in capturing leaders and drivers or in establishing tribunals. In fact, combating terror is manifest in fighting the very serious disease which is known as extremism. The seriousness of extremism lies in the fact that the large number of terrorists that have been captured and the harsh punishments that have been imposed on them have not limited their spread or success all over the world. This is because the problem lies in the ideology and not in punishment. This is what the Americans and many of those involved in combating terror are yet to understand.