GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba – Soon after Osama bin Laden’s driver got here in 2002, he told interrogators the identity of the al-Qaida chief’s most senior bodyguard – then a fellow prison camp detainee.
But, inexplicably, the U.S. let the bodyguard go.
This startling information was revealed in the fourth day of the war crimes trial of Salim Hamdan, 37, facing conspiracy and material support for terror charges as an alleged member of bin Laden’s inner circle.
Michael St. Ours, an agent with the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, provided the first tidbit. He testified for the prosecution that his job as a prison camps interrogator in May 2002 was to find and focus on the bodyguards among the detainees.
And Hamdan helped identify 30 of them – 10 percent of the roughly 300 detainees then held here. They had just been transferred to Camp Delta from the crude compound called Camp X-Ray, and U.S. intelligence was still trying to unmask them.
Chief among them was Casablanca-born Abdallah Tabarak, then 47, described by St. Ours as “a hard individual,” and, thanks to Hamdan, “the head bodyguard of all the bodyguards.”
St. Ours said he was eager to speak with Tabarak. But the Moroccan was “uncooperative,” and St. Ours moved on to other intelligence jobs – and never learned afterward what became of him.
Then, on cross-examination, Hamdan defense attorney Harry Schneider dropped a bombshell:
“Would it surprise you to learn he was released without ever being charged?” St. Ours looked stunned.
“Yeah,” he said.
Prison camp and Pentagon spokesmen did not reply Thursday to a request for an explanation. Tabarak’s name was gone from an official prison camp roster drawn up by the Defense Department in September 2004, after some 200 captives had been sent away. A month before, Morocco’s state news agency said all five of its nationals had been repatriated from the camps, for investigation.