Tuesday July 22, 2008
Guantánamo BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – The judge in the first American war crimes
trial since World War II barred evidence on Monday that interrogators obtained
from Osama bin Laden’s driver following his capture in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors are considering whether to appeal the judge’s ruling — a
development that could halt the trial of Salim Hamdan that began earlier Monday
after years of delays and legal setbacks.
"We need to evaluate … to what extent it has an impact on our ability
to fully portray his criminality in this case, but also what it might set out
for future cases," said Army Col. Lawrence Morris, the tribunals’ chief
Hamdan, who was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001, pleaded
not guilty at the start of a trial that will be closely watched as the first
full test of the Pentagon’s system for prosecuting alleged terrorists. He faces
a maximum life sentence if convicted of conspiracy and aiding terrorism.
The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said the prosecution cannot use a series
of interrogations at the Bagram air base and Panshir, Afghanistan, because of
the "highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were
At Bagram, Hamdan says he was kept in isolation 24 hours a day with his hands
and feet restrained, and armed soldiers prompted him to talk by kneeing him
in the back. He says his captors at Panshir repeatedly tied him up, put a bag
over his head and knocked him to the ground.
Defense had asked for more The judge did leave the door open for the prosecution
to use other statements Hamdan gave elsewhere in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.
Defense lawyers asked Allred to throw out all of his interrogations, arguing
he incriminated himself under the effects of alleged abuse — including
sleep deprivation and solitary confinement.
Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel, described the ruling as
a major blow to the tribunal system that allows hearsay and evidence obtained
"It’s a very significant ruling because these prosecutions are built to
make full advantage of statements obtained from detainees," he said.
A jury of six officers with one alternate was selected from a pool of 13 flown
in from other U.S. bases over the weekend. Hamdan’s lawyers succeeded in barring
others, including one who had friends at the Pentagon at the time of the Sept.
11 attacks, and another who had been a key government witness as a student.
Monday marked the first time after years of pretrial hearings and legal challenges
that any prisoner reached this stage of the tribunals.
The U.S. plans to prosecute about 80 Guantánamo prisoners, including the self-proclaimed
mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four alleged coconspirators.
Hamdan seemed to go along with the process despite earlier threats to boycott.
The Yemeni with a fourth-grade education appeared to cooperate fully with his
Pentagon-appointed military lawyer, whispering in his ear during the questioning
of potential jurors.
"Mr. Hamdan expressed great interest in this," said Charles Swift,
one of his civilian attorneys.
Morris said the statements obtained from Hamdan are "significant"
to the government’s case, and his office was evaluating whether to proceed to
trial without some of them.
No statements without witness In addition to the other interrogations, the
judge said he would throw out statements whenever a government witness is unavailable
to vouch for the questioners’ tactics. He also withheld a ruling on a key interrogation
at Guantánamo in May 2003 until defense lawyers can review roughly 600 pages
of confinement records provided by the government on Sunday night.