The Miami Herald

Prisoner grateful to Allah and U.S. courts

 
Detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who worked in Afghanistan as a driver for Osama bin Laden, is seen in this undated file photo. (AP Photo/photo courtesy of Prof. Neal Katyal)
Detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who worked in Afghanistan as a driver for Osama bin Laden, is seen in this undated file photo. (AP Photo/photo courtesy of Prof. Neal Katyal)
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Osama bin Laden's stunned ex-driver praised Allah three times in Arabic upon learning of his U.S. Supreme Court victory that shut down President Bush's war court, his U.S. military attorney said Friday.

Moreover, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift said Salim Hamdan's defense team would arrive at this remote base in southeast Cuba on the Fourth of July to brief the Yemeni with a fourth-grade education on their plan to seek ''a fair trial'' for him.

Hamdan, 36, sounded stunned, said Swift, as he got the first word about the Supreme Court decision Thursday in a 20-minute phone call between Washington and Camp Delta, the Pentagon's sprawling prison camp complex overlooking the Caribbean.

''Alhumdullah, Alhumdullah, Alhumdullah,'' he told his lawyers -- Arabic for ``Praise be to God.''

Four people were on the line -- Hamdan; Swift; a Pentagon-approved defense Arabic translator; and Georgetown Law professor Neal Katyal, Swift's civilian counsel who argued the case at the high court.

''It was moving. There was no whooping and hollering,'' Swift said in an interview Friday with The Miami Herald.

Swift said he could ethically describe the telephone conversation in detail because U.S. military intelligence agents monitored the conversation, meaning attorney-client privilege was breached.

''I could hear in his voice that he was ultimately stunned. He was as caught by surprise by the decision as anyone,'' said Swift, a 19-year career Navy officer, recalling earlier conversations in which Hamdan's legal team laid out his Supreme Court challenge.

Swift said Hamdan had long found it inconceivable that he could win.

'He would say, `He's the president of the United States, and it's the Supreme Court.' ''

`IN YEMEN'

''In Yemen, the president goes to the Supreme Court,'' said Swift. ``You think he loses?''

In the 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court found that President Bush exceeded his powers with the administration's formula for Military Commissions, which opened in August 2004 and before which 10 Guantánamo captives were charged as al Qaeda co-conspirators.

The first detainee in the dock was Hamdan, a wiry Yemeni who has been held here for four-plus years and admits to working for bin Laden as a driver on his farm in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

But Hamdan argues he did it as a job, earning $200 a month. He claims he never hurt anyone and never conspired with al Qaeda to attack American targets.

Swift said there was no air of celebration in the conversation -- the first ever by telephone between Hamdan and his legal team, which plans to travel here Tuesday from Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

`A FAIR TRIAL'

Rather, he said, there was an air of ''gratitude'' that the ``Supreme Court said whether it was a military or a civilian trial, he'd get a fair trial -- that he'd have the right to be at the trial, he'd see the evidence, and he'd have all the protections.''

U.S. military officials here would only confirm that the call took place -- but would not address how arrangements were made: for example, whether a telephone was brought to Hamdan's cell or who on the Navy base arranged, approved or monitored the call.

''Mr. Hamdan was notified of the Supreme Court's decision today by his attorney via telephone,'' Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand, director of public affairs at the prison camps, said Thursday.

Only a few of the 450 captives here have been permitted telephone calls.

The Saudi father of a U.S. aeronautical university graduate spent an hour chatting with his son from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, earlier this year to persuade him not to boycott his first Military Commissions hearing.

Army Maj. Wade Faulkner, another military defense attorney, has so far failed to line up a call for his Algerian client, Sufyian Barhoumi, to speak to his mother following the December death of his father, an attorney in Algiers.




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