A military jury in Guantanamo Thursday gave Salim Hamdan a surprisingly light sentence of 5 1/2 years. And since Hamdan has already been imprisoned at the Navy base for five years, his sentence would be completed sometime next year.
Hamdan was convicted Wednesday of providing material support to terrorists, but was acquitted of the more serious charge of conspiracy. In essence, the six-member jury did not buy the Pentagon’s argument that Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, was a key operative of al Qaeda.
But the Pentagon has made clear that intends to hold Hamdan as an enemy combatant beyond the time his term ends. The Defense Department maintains that it can hold foreign nationals who have been classified as enemy combatants as long as hostilities continue. In a global war on terror, of course, it’s difficult to say when exactly that point might be reached.
And as an enemy combatant, Hamdan has the right to challenge the basis for detention in a habeas corpus proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It would be interesting to see how a judge might view his being detained after he has finished his full sentence.
The status of Hamdan and other enemy combatants will present a challenge for the next president, who will be charged with determining which anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration should be kept in place and which should be junked. The Pentagon has said that a small group of detainees at Guantanamo will be kept indefinitely, even if the Defense Department does not have enough evidence to formally charge them before military commissions.
Here is the Associated Press bulletin:
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) — A military jury gave Osama bin Laden’s driver a stunningly lenient sentence on Thursday, making him eligible for release in just five months despite the prosecutors’ request for a sentence tough enough to frighten terrorists around the globe.
Salim Hamdan’s sentence of 5 1/2 years, including five years and a month already served at Guantanamo Bay, fell far short of the 30 years to life that prosecutors wanted. It now goes for mandatory review to a Pentagon official who can shorten the sentence but not extend it. Continue reading