Hamdan’s Light Sentence
Salim Hamdan, the former driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden convicted by a U.S. military tribunal Wednesday, could be released from prison before President Bush leaves office.
The U.S. military jury sentenced the Yemeni prisoner Thursday to just 5 1/2 years in prison, including five years and a month already served at Guantanamo Bay. U.S. authorities insist they could still hold him indefinitely without charge, but defense lawyers and human rights groups say the military will face pressure to release him at the end of his sentence.
The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, called Hamdan a “small player,” and the jury apparently agreed, rejecting the recommendation of prosecutors who said even a life sentence would be fitting in order to send an example to would-be terrorists. “I hope the day comes that you return to your wife and daughters and your country, and you’re able to be a provider, a father and a husband in the best sense of all those terms,” Allred told Hamdan at the close of the hearing.
The prisoner, dressed in a charcoal sports coat and white robe, responded: “God willing.”
Hamdan thanked the jurors for the sentence and repeated his apology for having served bin Laden. “I would like to apologize one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me,” Hamdan told the five-man, one-woman jury, all military officers picked by the Pentagon for the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half-century. Hamdan raised both hands in the air and waved as he left the courtroom, saying “bye, bye everybody” in English.
At first blush, this would seem an odd result from a kangaroo court of military officers simply carrying out their orders and doing what the government, who wanted Hamdan convicted of a much more serious charge and sentenced to the maximum penalty of life in prison, wants. But it just goes to show how clever they are.