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.

In this Thursday, July 24, 2008 file photograph of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, defendant Salim Ahmed Hamdan, left, watches as FBI agent Craig Donnachie testifies about his interrogations of Hamdan, while a picture of disguised U.S. agents is displayed on a screen, during Hamdan's trial inside the war crimes courthouse at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, in Cuba. A jury of six military officers reached a split verdict on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008, in the war crimes trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, clearing him of some charges but convicting him of others that could send him to prison for life. The judge scheduled a sentencing hearing for later Wednesday. (AP Photo/Janet Hamlin, Pool)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.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:


    Funny thing; I’ve not seen much from the left on this one, yet. Their stunned silence seems an indication that it was far lighter a sentence than even THEY wanted, but after all the defense put up for the man by them, they dare not say so.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Their stunned silence seems an indication that it was far lighter a sentence than even THEY wanted

    Mostly, I think, it’s just a matter of both sides generally ignoring stories that don’t fit their narrative.

    (I should note that Anderson mentioned it in the comments of the previous post last night; I just didn’t get around to posting on it.)

  3. Ugh says:

    Or one could point to this as evidence that the Bush administration is so incompetent that it can’t even get show trials right.

  4. sam says:

    On kangaroos and courts:

    On May 9th, Navy Captain Keith Allred, a military judge at the U.S. prison camp in GuantanamoBay, ruled that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann must remove himself from any involvement in the prosecution of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former body guard and personal driver. The ruling against the Office of Military Commission’s top legal advisor came after another military commission judge, Judge Peter Brownback, heard testimony by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, that Gen. Hartmann had promoted the politicization of the military tribunal process. Ironically, the order bars Gen. Hartmann, who was previously appointed to provide “neutral, independent” advice to the tribunal, from any further contact with the prosecution in the Hamdan case.

    Based largely on testimony from Col. Davis, Captain Allred found that Gen. Hartmann had repeatedly overstepped his authority and engaged in improper conduct. In his 13-page opinion, Captain Allred wrote that Gen. Hartmann told Col. Davis that “certain types of cases would be tried, and that others would not be tried, because of political factors such as whether they would capture the imagination of the American people, be sexy, or involve blood on the hands of the accused.” [My emphasis]

    Captain Allred also found that Gen. Hartmann compromised his supposedly objective position by “appearing to direct, or attempting to direct” Col. Davis to use tainted evidence that may have been gathered as the result of “torture or coercion.” Contravening his statutory authority, Gen. Hartmann also intended to personally conduct pretrial agreement negotiations without consulting the trial counsel.

    Captain Allred concluded that Gen. Hartmann failed to provide “the required independence from the prosecution function to provide fair and objective legal advice to the [court].” As consequence, he removed Gen. Hartmann from the Hamdan case and ordered that a substitute Legal Advisor — excluding any deputies or subordinates to Gen. Hartmann — be appointed for the remainder of the proceedings.

    Maybe the court just figured, given all the shenanigans that went on down at Gitmo, that this was the most they could do in good conscience.

  5. Bithead says:

    Or one could point to this as evidence that the Bush administration is so incompetent that it can’t even get show trials right.

    Or perhaps it indicates they’re not the monsters some would like to make them out as.

  6. Bithead says:

    Mostly, I think, it’s just a matter of both sides generally ignoring stories that don’t fit their narrative.

    Or perhaps they’ve just not figured out how to spin it to their advantage yet… how to make it fit their narrative… as an example the exchange between Sam and myself.

  7. Bithead says:

    Oops. Sorry Sam. Ugh, I meant.

  8. Triumph says:

    James forgot to include the information that the so-called judge spoke Arabic in a military courtroom to the scum, Hamdan.

    This is further evidence of how the liberal Congress has weakened the military. If you didn’t have treasonous senators like Hussein and Kennedy trying to destroy our troops, you wouldn’t have spineless, activist judges like Allred showing sympathy for the evildoers.

    Luckily, Allread’s decision is meaningless since Bush can still keep Hamdan in custody even after his “sentence” is served.

    Of course, if Hussein gets elected he will just let loose all of the terrorists on his first day in office. This is why we need to insure that Bush dissolves Congress in early January should Hussein win the election. That way, the electoral college will be unable to meet and Bush will have to extend his reign.

    The only way for freedom and liberty to be preserved will be for Bush to maintain his rule after his term expires. Otherwise, criminals like Hamdan will resume their terrorist ways