U.S. military loses records for bin Laden's driver
GANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba |
GANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The U.S. military has lost a year's worth of records describing the Guantanamo confinement of Osama bin Laden's driver, a prosecutor said at the Yemeni captive's war court hearing on Thursday.
Lawyers for the driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, asked for the records to support their argument that prolonged isolation and harassment at the Guantanamo prison have mentally impaired him and could affect his ability to aid in his defence against war crimes charges.
"All known records have been produced with the exception of the 2002 Gitmo records," one of the prosecutors, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Stone, told the court. "They can't find it."
He said the military was still looking for the records kept at the remote U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba, which he referred to by its nickname.
The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Larry Morris, said all of Hamdan's interrogation records were given to the defence at least a year ago and that the missing 2002 documents are "local detention records that deal with issues of confinement such as diet, exercise, hygiene and the location of the detainee" within the camp.
Defence lawyers contend there are still records missing, including some that would show Hamdan was coerced into making some statements that could be used as evidence against him.
U.S. President George W. Bush authorized the Guantanamo court to prosecute suspected al Qaeda members on terrorism charges, arguing that existing civilian and military courts were not designed to try war captives who are not part of any national army.
Hamdan, who is in his late 30s, was the prisoner whose lawsuit prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the initial Guantanamo war crimes system. The charges against him were twice dismissed and then refiled and the military hopes to begin his trial in May.
He was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and faces life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. Hamdan has said he never joined al Qaeda but worked in bin Laden's motor pool in Afghanistan because he needed the $200 (103 pound) monthly salary.
JUDGE ASKED TO DROP CHARGES
Prosecutors say he was a trusted al Qaeda member who helped bin Laden elude U.S. forces in Afghanistan and that he had two anti-aircraft rockets in his car when captured at a checkpoint near the southern city of Kandahar.
Hamdan's lawyers asked the judge on Thursday to drop the charges on grounds that their client's acts were not recognized as war crimes when committed.
Legal authority to try non-U.S. captives in the Guantanamo tribunals rests on a 2006 law that made conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism war crimes, but Hamdan's lawyers said it could not be retroactively applied.
A U.S. Justice Department lawyer argued that although no international law or treaty specifically listed conspiracy as a war crime, the Nuremberg war court set a precedent by prosecuting German SS members after World War Two. They were accused of membership in what had been declared a criminal organization, essentially the equivalent of conspiring with al Qaeda, said the attorney, Jordan Goldstein.
Hamdan's lawyers also argued that he cannot be prosecuted in the war court for acts committed before the war started, and that the Supreme Court's Hamdan ruling put that date at September 11, 2001.
Prosecutors argue that the war began for Hamdan when he entered Afghanistan in 1996 and joined an existing al Qaeda conspiracy, but they have not accused him of plotting the September 11 attacks.
(Editing by Stuart Grudgings)
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