Fascinating testimony Friday in the ongoing trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former chauffeur.
Statements from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the most valuable of the high-value detainees at Guantanamo, were read to the jury. Mohammed, as you know, was the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Mohammed was questioned by Hamdan’s lawyers about Hamdan’s role in al-Qaeda. And by KSM’s take, it appears that Hamdan, was, well, kind of a flunky.
From a story in today’s Washington Post by Jerry Markon:
“He did not play any role. He was not a soldier, he was a driver,” Mohammed said in answers to written questions from Hamdan’s lawyers that were relayed to the six military jurors. “His nature was more primitive (Bedouin) person and far from civilization. He was not fit to plan or execute.”
Hmm. It’s never good to hear what the boss really thinks of you, is it?
More interestingly, Mohammed provided details of al Qaeda’s internal structure, pulling the curtain back to reveal a mulit-faceted and structured organization, which he compared to the U.S Army. There were planners, Mohammed said, and then there were low-level employees like Hamdan, who, uh, changed the tires on the jeeps.
“As the American Army (we) have drivers, cooks, crewmen and legal personal,” Mohammed wrote, according to a translation from his original Arabic that was provided to the jurors. “We also, are human beings . . . we have interests in life. Our people have wives and children and schools. . . . You can not understand terrorism and Al-Qaeda from 9/11 operation.”
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Hamdan, whom prosecution witnesses have described as personally close to bin Laden, was a mere cog in the al-Qaeda structure, the self-proclaimed terrorist leader wrote. “He was a driver and auto mechanic . . . he was not at all a military man,” Mohammed said. “He is fit to change trucks’ tires, change oil filters, wash and clean cars, and fasten cargo in pick up trucks.”
Mohammed, the story says, refused to appear in court or meet with Hamdan’s attorneys.
Why does this matter? Because Hamdan is the test case for the military commission process. And KSM’s testimony provides some glimpse into what may be a gulf between the Pentagon’s description of some of the detainees held at Guantanamo and the role they may have actually played (or not) in waging war against the United States.
Be that as it may, some observers say that Pentagon chose Hamdan to be the first case to go forward precisely because of his low-level status in al Qaeda. As the first of what could be as many as 80 trials, the thinking is that it’s better to smooth out the rough edges in the still-developing process with a defendant who isn’t a key player, so that there is less risk from an adverse ruling.
All in all, though, it’s interesting that this man, Hamdan, whom Mohammed obviously views somewhat contemptuously, is the figure whose case has made landmark law. It was his first challenge to the military commission process that resulted in the Supreme Court decision in 2006 that found the first set of procedures unconstitutional.