Five years ago, Salim Hamdan was living all but anonymously in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, driving a Toyota pickup truck for Osama bin Laden on his Kandahar farm.
Tuesday, the tale of the wiry Yemeni with a fourth-grade education takes center stage at the U.S. Supreme Court as lawyers argue a landmark case on whether President Bush had the power to create a special war court to try Hamdan.
An extraordinary case for extraordinary times, Hamdan's constitutional challenge claims that the court the Pentagon constructed is unfair and un-American.
And he is joined in his argument by a celebrated cast of supporters -- a former secretary of state, retired federal judges and U.S. military officers, international jurists -- in a clash that is not lost on the captive.
''Are we going to be making history?'' he asked his military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, as the case headed for the high court.
''I don't want to make history,'' he added. ``I just want to go home.''
He will sit out the arguments in his seven-by-eight-foot cell, 1,300 miles away, at Guantánamo Bay.
At issue is not whether the United States has the power to detain the 36-year-old father of two at the Navy base, where he will have been held for four years by the time the justices rule this summer.
The core of the challenge is in what American court, if any, Hamdan can face a U.S. military charge of conspiracy as part of al Qaeda's world terrorism network.
Government lawyers say that Congress gave President Bush the power to create a new war court in its use-of-force resolution after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They say that Hamdan should challenge the new panel system only after he is tried at Guantánamo Bay, and only if he is convicted.
Hamdan's advocates argue that he deserves to face an already established U.S. court -- not the first U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II.
They also argue that the United States breached international treaty obligations by denying Hamdan the possibility of prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.
''Not only do these military commissions betray our commitment to the rule of law, they damage our reputation abroad and undermine our ability to promote the global rule of law as an antidote to terrorism,'' said Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh in a brief for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and 20 other former U.S. diplomats.
Hamdan's case not only tests the limits of presidential powers over the 10 Guantánamo captives facing trial by a tribunal of U.S. military officers, called a Military Commission. Legal experts say that his case also has implications for the nearly 500 ''enemy combatants'' -- whether and how they can turn to civilian courts to intervene on their behalf in Pentagon detention processes.
Said attorney Scott Silliman, a retired Air Force colonel who now runs the Duke University Center on Law, Ethics and National Security:
``Hamdan gives the court the opportunity to define this war on terrorism, to give us a more current view of the constitutional authority of the president in this new type of war and the tools available to him in fighting it.''
Bush advocates argue that America is facing an enemy unrivaled in U.S. history, so it has crafted a court that shields classified information from public view to allow prosecutions in a war with no end in sight.
Air Force Col. Moe Davis, the chief prosecutor, quoted the cartoon character Bart Simpson to explain the quandary of waiting until the war on terrorism ends to try captives: