July 24, 2008 in Nation/World

Bin Laden driver bolts war-crimes trial during video

By Carol J. Williams Los Angeles Times
 

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Salim Ahmed Hamdan abruptly walked out of his war-crimes trial Wednesday while the military jury watched a video in which the defendant was shown trussed, hooded and badgered by armed and masked U.S. captors.

Hamdan returned after about an hour and watched the second half of nearly two hours of the black-and-white video filmed in a crude cell in an Afghan village. The only illumination was a flashlight into his face.

“I want to apologize for what I have done, for my behavior,” the former driver for Osama bin Laden told the judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, of his exit from the courtroom.

Hamdan suggested that it was because of tension with his longest-serving lawyer, former Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift.

But it was obvious that he was uncomfortable watching the video of his first interrogation, in which U.S. soldiers in balaclavas accused him of lying about everything from his employment to his daughter’s name.

The developments in the Guantanamo courtroom provided a window onto the life of a captive in the chaotic aftermath of the October 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, when aerial bombardments rained down on al-Qaida strongholds.

Hamdan’s Nov. 24, 2001, capture at a roadblock in the southern Afghan village of Takhteh Pol has been portrayed by the Pentagon as an interception on the battlefield.

But the video, shown in two parts, made clear that it was local Afghan fighters who seized Hamdan as he returned from driving his family to safety across the border to Pakistan.

The six senior U.S. officers serving as jurors in the first war-crimes trial here watched as an unseen interrogator asked Hamdan about two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles found in the car he said he had borrowed for the trip out of Kandahar.

Hamdan conceded that the missiles were in the Toyota but said that they belonged to the friend who had lent him the car, as did a weapons license and other documents found inside, he said.

Asked why he fled the Afghans who had already had one deadly engagement at the roadblock that day, Hamdan replied: “I was scared. A person gets scared.”

When he was accused of lying about a postcard found in the car, which he told the interrogator had been written by his wife, Saboura, but signed “Fatima,” the name of his 21-month-old daughter, Hamdan lamented, “It’s all finished for me. Why should I lie?”


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