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U.S. Could Continue Holding Bin Laden Driver

The man who served as a driver for Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, but with credit for time served, he may be eligible for release by the end of the year.

NPR's John McChesney tells Steve Inskeep that despite the sentence given to Salim Hamdan by a U.S. military jury in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the government could continue holding him. But defense lawyers don't believe that will happen because it would cause international outrage, McChesney says.

"This guy has been tried, he's been given the sentence he's been given, and if the government tried to keep him past that 5 1/2 months, his defense team, which is very dedicated to him, would be all over them. And I don't think the administration wants to brook that kind of world reaction," McChesney says.

The sentence was a rebuke to prosecutors, who wanted a much longer prison term.

"They also got slapped down on the conspiracy charge, so they had a double defeat here in some ways," McChesney says.

The conspiracy charge was considered the more serious of the two charges. Hamdan was acquitted of that but was convicted of material support of terrorism or a terrorist organization, and then the jury came back with the light sentence.

In the courtroom, the defense team was jubilant.

"Charlie Swift, who has had this case for five years, and Mr. Hamdan embraced. Mr. Hamdan raised his arms and gave a victory signal. The judge — quite remarkably — said, 'I hope Mr. Hamdan you're soon able to join your family in Yemen.' And Mr. Hamdan said, 'inshallah' ['God willing'] and the judge answered him 'inshallah.' It was an amazingly emotional scene."

Reaction to the jury's decisions, and views of the legitimacy of the military commission system, vary widely, McChesney says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.