Bin Laden driver's terrorism conviction overturned by US court
US court overturns Salim Hamdan's sentence, which may benefit others at Guantanamo Bay
Agence France-Presse in Washington
A US court has thrown out the conviction of Osama bin Laden's former driver for offering material support to terrorism, in a case that could potentially benefit other past prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
A top US court for the second time ruled in favour of claims by Salim Hamdan, who served as Osama bin Laden's personal chauffeur and has fought to clear his name even after being released and returned to his native Yemen. The US Court of Appeals in Washington said that a law that listed material support for terrorism as a war crime - approved in 2006 in response to Hamdan's case - could not apply to him retroactively.
US prosecutors instead had to rely on international law, which defines some forms of terrorism - such as the intentional targeting of civilians - as war crimes, the court said.
"But the issue here is whether 'material support for terrorism' is an international-law war crime. The answer is no," Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court in an opinion with which the two other judges largely agreed.
"Perhaps most telling, before this case, no person has ever been tried by an international-law war crimes tribunal for material support for terrorism," he wrote.
Kavanaugh - who was appointed by former president George W. Bush and is generally considered a conservative - also dismissed the argument that the Hamdan case was moot as he had already been released.
All seven men who have been convicted by Guantanamo's military commission including the Australian David Hicks faced charges that included material support for terrorism.
Adam Thurschwell, who served as Hamdan's lawyer, said that the court's decision could allow Hicks and others sentenced over material support to return to court. "Because time doesn't matter. They are in a position to come back to court and have their convictions overturned," Thurschwell said.
According to prosecutors, Hamdan moved from Yemen to Afghanistan - then coming under control of the hardline Taliban movement - in 1996 and participated in a training camp of bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
Hamdan became a driver who transported weapons and other goods between al-Qaeda sites in Afghanistan and later became bin Laden's personal driver and bodyguard, according to US court documents.