GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba, (AP) – A jury of six military officers at Guantanamo Bay reached a split verdict Wednesday in the war crimes trial of a former driver for Osama bin Laden, clearing him of some charges but convicting him of others that could send him to prison for life.
The Pentagon-selected jury deliberated for about eight hours over three days before convicting Salim Hamdan of supporting terrorism. He was cleared of the conspiracy charge.
Hamdan, who faces a maximum life sentence, held his head in his hands and wept at the defense table after a Navy captain presiding over the jury read the sentence in a hilltop courtroom on this U.S. Navy base.
The judge scheduled a sentencing hearing for later Wednesday.
Defense lawyers had feared a guilty verdict was inevitable, saying the tribunal system’s rules seemed designed to achieve convictions, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Salim Hamdan’s Pentagon-appointed attorney.
“I don’t know if the panel can render fair what has already happened,” Mizer told reporters as the jury deliberated.
Hamdan’s attorneys said the judge allowed evidence that would not have been admitted by any civilian or military U.S. court, and that interrogations at the center of the government’s case were tainted by coercive tactics, including sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.
Supporters of the tribunals said the Bush administration’s system provided extraordinary due process rights for defendants.
“This military judge is to be commended for providing a fair and internationally legally sufficient trial for the accused and the government — regardless of the ultimate verdict,” said Charles “Cully” Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in May 2002.
The military accused him of transporting missiles for al-Qaeda and helping bin Laden escape U.S. retribution following the Sept. 11 attacks by driving him around Afghanistan. Defense attorneys said he was merely a low-level bin Laden employee.