Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Report: Bin Laden's Driver at Gitmo

Usama bin Laden's (search) $200-a-month driver is being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, but the man had no connection to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda (search) terror network, his defense attorney said Wednesday.

Salim Ahmed Salim Hamdan, 34, left Yemen (search) in 1996 for Afghanistan. He planned to continue on to Tajikistan to join Muslims fighting against former Soviet communists but was forced to take a job to support his family, said his attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift.

Hamdan began working for bin Laden in 1997 on his farm in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, earning about $200 a month driving a truck and moving farm workers to the fields, said Swift, who just returned from a visit to the U.S. prison camp in eastern Cuba.

"We have the facts going for us," Swift told The Associated Press after speaking to the Miami Herald and the Washington Post. "He has a wife. He has two young children, one of whom he's never seen. The only reason why he took the job as a driver was to support his family."

Neither Hamdan nor any of the other 660 some detainees at the camp have been charged. He is one of four chosen to stand trial at possible military tribunals and given access to defense attorneys. And he is the first detainee at Guantanamo publicly identified as having a link to bin Laden.

Under U.S. law, Hamdan could be charged with conspiracy or being an accessory to a crime but the charges he could face under international law are not as clear, Swift said.

Hamdan says he is a civilian and has asked to be tried in a civilian court.

Unless he agrees to a plea bargain -- a possibility that Swift said he could not discuss in detail -- prosecutors will have to prove he had knowledge of bin Laden's activities. Bin Laden, accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, is still at large.

Pentagon policy has prohibited troops and civilians at the Navy base from disclosing specifics about prisoners. Swift received special Pentagon clearances to discuss his client, whom he has met for about 25 hours using an Arabic translator.

Swift says he has been given assurances his conversations with his client are not being monitored. He also says he has been granted access every time he's asked.

Hamdan, who is married and has two daughters aged 2 and 4, was captured by Afghan forces as he tried to return bin Laden's car to the farm during the U.S. attacks, Swift said. He was turned over to the Americans about two years ago but Swift said he could not say how long he had been in Guantanamo.

Since Hamdan was given counsel Dec. 18, he has been held in solitary confinement, segregated from the other prisoners in a windowless, air-conditioned cell, Swift said.

"Physically he's fine, with the exception of being cold," Swift said. "The prolonged solitary confinement has been difficult."

In Spain, meanwhile, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said Wednesday that a Spaniard held at Guantanamo is to be transferred to Spain for questioning by a judge.

The Spanish government last week endorsed a request by Judge Baltasar Garzon for the repatriation of Hamed Abderrahman Ahmad, 29, who has been held at the U.S. military base for more than two years after his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said she had been in contact with Secretary of State Colin Powell to arrange the suspect's flight to Spain.

Powell said the release was the first of many.

"The turnover of the Spanish detainee is the first of a number of turnovers that will be happening in the near future," Powell told Television of Spain. "As we conclude our inquiries and as we finish the interrogation of these individuals, we want to turn them back over to their home countries. And you will see more of this happening in the near future."

A Spanish military plane carrying seven police who will escort Ahmad left Spain on Wednesday. U.S. officials normally don't comment until transfers are completed.

The Spaniard is one of four Guantanamo inmates that Garzon has alleged belong to a terrorist organization through suspected links with Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, the jailed suspected leader of an Al Qaeda cell in Spain broken up in November 2001.

Ahmad will appear Friday before Garzon at Spain's National Court for questioning, court officials in Madrid said.