GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – A jury of six military officers convicted Usama bin Laden's former driver of supporting terrorism Wednesday in the first war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay, but cleared him of conspiracy charges.
The Pentagon-selected jury deliberated for about eight hours over three days before returning the verdict against Salim Hamdan, who held his head in his hands and wept at the defense table after a Navy captain on the jury read the decision.
The judge said he would hold a sentencing hearing later Wednesday in the hilltop courtroom on this U.S. base in southeastern Cuba. Hamdan, who is from Yemen, faces a life sentence. It remains unclear where he would be held.
Defense lawyers had feared a guilty verdict was inevitable, saying the tribunal system's rules seemed designed to achieve convictions, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, 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 faced eight counts of supporting terrorism and two counts of conspiracy. The five-man, one-woman jury convicted him on five counts of supporting terrorism and found him not guilty on three others. He was cleared of both counts of conspiracy.
Jurors accepted the prosecution argument that Hamdan aided terrorism by serving as bin Laden's armed bodyguard and driver in Afghanistan while knowing that his boss was plotting attacks against the U.S.
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.
Deputy White House spokesman Tony Fratto said in a statement that the Bush administration was pleased by the outcome and considered it a fair trial.
"The Military Commission system is a fair and appropriate legal process for prosecuting detainees alleged to have committed crimes against the United States or our interests," Fratto said. "We look forward to other cases moving forward to trial."
Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in May 2002. His trial, delayed by years of legal challenges that reached the Supreme Court, was the first demonstration of the Bush administration's system for prosecuting alleged terrorists.
The military accused him of transporting missiles for Al Qaeda and helping bin Laden escape U.S. retribution following the Sept. 11 attacks by serving as his driver in Afghanistan. Defense attorneys said he was merely a low-level bin Laden employee, a minor member of a motor pool with a fourth-grade education who earned about $200 a month.