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Salim Ahmed Hamdan

Nationality: Yemeni

In August 2008, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 37-year-old Yemeni, became the first Guantanamo detainee to go to trial before the military commissions. He was convicted of providing material support for terrorism for working as Osama bin Laden’s driver, and sentenced to five-and-a-half years of imprisonment.

Hamdan was captured by Afghan forces and handed over to the US military in late 2001. He was initially charged with conspiracy before the military commission in July 2004. He challenged the legality of the commissions in a case that went to the Supreme Court. In June 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions initially authorized by President Bush were unlawful because the president had not obtained congressional authority to establish them. Four months later, in September 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act authorizing a new system of military commissions. In May 2007, Hamdan was charged under these new commissions with conspiracy to commit terrorism and providing material support for terrorism for serving as bin Laden’s driver and transporting weapons and other supplies to aid in fighting against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

In August 2008, a military jury cleared him of conspiracy charges, finding him guilty only of providing material support. He was sentenced to five-and-a-half years, but given credit for more than five years of time served. Hamdan should finish his sentence on December 31, 2008, however, the Bush administration claims that it has the right to hold “unlawful enemy combatants” for as long as the “global war on terror” is still under way.

Hamdan has claimed that US forces beat, punched and kicked him, as well as held him in stress positions and subjected him to severe cold in Afghanistan. At Guantanamo, Hamdan was reportedly held in solitary confinement in a windowless cell for nearly a year. Evidence to substantiate these allegations – as well as evidence that Hamdan was sexually harassed by interrogators and subjected to sleep deprivation – were presented at his trial, however much of it was classified and presented in secret so the public was kept in the dark about US abuses.

Human Rights Watch has serious concerns about the secrecy surrounding Hamdan’s trial, the government’s use of inflammatory hearsay evidence, and the possible reliance on evidence that was coerced.

Human Rights Watch Commentary:

Military Commissions Documents:

Salim Ahmed Hamdan © 2006 Reuters