''Damned if you do, damned if you don't,'' he said.
In a sense, Hamdan's roundabout road to the Supreme Court started in November 2001, two months before the United States established the prison camp in southeastern Cuba.
President Bush signed an order on Nov. 13, 2001, authorizing the secretary of defense to detain foreigners indefinitely -- and ordered him to prepare Military Commissions to try some of them.
Across the globe, the United States began to bomb Afghanistan, and Hamdan spirited his pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter to safety in Pakistan.
His lawyer says he was returning a borrowed car when Afghan warlords captured him and handed him over to U.S. forces -- he believes for a bounty offered by U.S. agents for foreign Muslims.
By the time the United States inaugurated its offshore interrogation center with an 8,000-mile air bridge to Cuba in January 2002, Hamdan was already in U.S. hands.
He was brought to Cuba four months later, manacled and masked in a 27-hour trip long after the Bush administration had declared captives there ''unlawful combatants'' -- not prisoners of war.
Hamdan spent his first year at Guantánamo as an ordinary captive. Prison-camp controversies were still simmering to the surface -- and the Pentagon was showcasing its makeshift 21st century terrorism prison in weekly tours for journalists and members of Congress.
Tawdry tales of interrogation tactics -- sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, outsourcing to Arab countries -- had yet to emerge.
Then, in December 2003, the military moved Hamdan into segregation and assigned Swift, a Navy lawyer, to him with the limited task of learning whether the prisoner would plead guilty.
Except that Hamdan told his lawyer he was not a war criminal.
Rather, he described himself as a privately paid driver who worked at the farm of bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire; his livelihood vanished when terrorists crashed those planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
It took Hamdan's Navy lawyer two more months to get permission to talk about his client publicly -- and only after military intelligence people went through talking points he planned to use in an interview with The Miami Herald.
On Feb. 10, 2004, the lawyer told his client's side of the story for the first time: The man who would challenge President Bush's war powers was an alleged foot soldier, not an al Qaeda architect. The United States planned to put Osama bin Laden's $200-a-month driver in the dock of a war court fashioned for the circumstances.
So, rather than enter a guilty plea, Swift sued the United States by filing a habeas corpus petition in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Defense attorneys from all four services -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- call the war court unconstitutional. They charge that the Bush administration crafted an unfair court, rather than try Hamdan before civilian judges in the United States, or at a U.S. military court martial that would offer him the same rights and protections as an American soldier.
''It's a separation-of-powers, checks-and-balances issue,'' said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, the chief commissions defense counsel and a former lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Still, Sullivan cautioned that, whatever the Supreme Court decides, it is not being asked to rule in the larger debate over whether the United States should close its prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.
Now the high court gets to decide -- or at least eight members of it. The chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, is recusing himself because, as an appeals court judge, he was part of the panel that unanimously upheld Bush's war powers in the Hamdan case.
Republican Sens. John Kyl of South Carolina and Lindsey Graham of Arizona argue that Hamdan's case should not be before the court in the first place. They championed a bill in Congress late last year that stripped Guantánamo captives of pretrial civilian review. Now the high court must decide how much of that law stands, too.
The Bush administration originally argued that, as enemy combatants held offshore, Guantánamo captives could not sue in civilian court. But the Supreme Court rejected that notion in June 2004, opening the way for federal courts to review the case of any detainee who sues for freedom.
''Guantánamo Bay is a military base in a foreign country,'' the senators wrote in their brief, echoing the government's position. ``The military's mission of winning battles cannot be encumbered with a requirement that every enemy captured abroad be given a lawyer and a hearing.''