A U.S. military jury gave Osama bin Laden's driver a surprisingly light sentence on Thursday, making him eligible for release in just five months despite the prosecutors' request for at least a 30-year sentence to deter would-be terrorists.
Salim Hamdan's sentence of 5 1/2 years, including five years and a month already served at Guantanamo Bay, fell far short of the life sentence he could have gotten for aiding terrorism by driving and guarding bin Laden. It now goes for mandatory review to a Pentagon official who can shorten the sentence but not extend it.
It remains unclear what will happen to Hamdan once his sentence is served, since the U.S. military has said it won't release anyone who is still a threat. The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said Hamdan, who is from Yemen, would likely be eligible for the same administrative review as other Guantanamo prisoners.
Defense lawyers said they expect Hamdan will be let go in five months. “It was all for show if Mr. Hamdan does not go home in December,” said Charles Swift, one of Hamdan's civilian attorneys.
Hamdan thanked the jurors for the sentence and repeated his apology for having served bin Laden.
“I would like to apologize one more time to all the members, and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me,” Hamdan told the five-man, one-woman jury, all military officers hand-picked by the Pentagon for the first U.S. war crimes trial in a half-century.
Hamdan was found guilty of supporting terrorism by serving as bin Laden's armed bodyguard and driver while knowing the al-Qaida leader was plotting U.S. attacks. But he was found not guilty of providing missiles to al-Qaida and knowing his work would be used for terrorism. He also was cleared of being part of al-Qaida's conspiracy to attack the U.S. – the most serious charges he faced.
The military has not said where Hamdan will serve his sentence, but the commander of the detention center, Navy Rear Adm. David Thomas, said last week that convicted prisoners will be held apart from the general detainee population at the isolated U.S. military base in Cuba.