SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A former driver for Osama bin Laden was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to his homeland of Yemen to serve out the remaining 32 days of his sentence, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Salim Hamdan, the first man to go before a U.S. war crimes trial since the end of World War II, was flown from the U.S. Naval base in Cuba to Yemen.
Hamdan was convicted on Aug. 6 of providing material support to terrorism, and the military reserved the option of keeping him locked up indefinitely if it considered him to be a continued threat. Instead the U.S. decided to send him home. A Pentagon official said the decision came from the White House.
Hamdan was sentenced at the war-crimes trial to 5 1/2 years in prison. Being credited with five years and one month for time already served means his sentence ends on Dec. 27, according to the Pentagon.
"As part of a transfer agreement with the United States, the remainder of Hamdan's sentence will be served in Yemen," the Defense Department said in a statement.
Hamdan's Pentagon-appointed attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, told The Associated Press that he was surprised to learn the U.S. was transferring Hamdan to Yemen so soon.
"This ... is welcome news indeed," Mizer said. "Tonight I hope that he is home with his wife and two little girls. He is not and never has been a terrorist."
Guantanamo prosecutors sought a sentence of 30 years to life for Hamdan, whose trial inaugurated the military commissions in July. They also argued that as an "enemy combatant" he should not receive credit for his time detained there. A military judge rejected that argument.
While convicted of supporting terrorism, Hamdan was acquitted by a jury of military officers of providing missiles to al-Qaida and knowing his work would be used for terrorism. He also was cleared of being part of al-Qaida's conspiracy to attack the United States.
Some 250 men remain imprisoned at Guantanamo. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to close the military detention center, which opened in January 2002, soon after taking office.