July 25, 2008 / 10:10 PM / 11 years ago

French fries said to have calmed Hamdan

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Hot McDonald’s french fries and a call home encouraged Salim Hamdan to cooperate under interrogation but Osama bin Laden’s driver did not like cold fries and isolation upset him, witnesses said at his Guantanamo war crimes trial on Friday.

A sketch by a courtroom artist shows Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan (L) at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base July 24, 2008, as FBI agent Craig Donnachie (R) testifies about his interrogations of Hamdan regarding a picture of disguised U.S. agents. REUTERS/Courtroom Drawing by Janet Hamlin

“Mr. Hamdan commented that he liked McDonald’s fries and we brought fries in,” FBI special agent George Crouch told Hamdan’s terrorism war crimes trial before a U.S. military commission. “Mr. Hamdan even appreciated that McDonald’s fries are not good cold.”

Hamdan grew upset and uncooperative when he put in solitary confinement amid a series of interrogations, prompting a heated complaint by Crouch to military guards.

Another time, Hamdan’s mood lifted when he was allowed to call and tell his wife that he was alive seven months after his capture in November 2001.

“Mr. Hamdan cried quite a bit,” Crouch said. “He was very grateful for the opportunity to speak to his wife. A burden had been lifted from him. At least his wife knew he was alive.”

Hamdan was one of several drivers for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors say he was captured in Afghanistan at the wheel of a car with two surface-to-air missiles.

He is facing charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two.

Prosecutors are relying largely on Hamdan’s statements during interrogations in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay during more than six years of captivity in an attempt to show he was an active, important supporter of bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Hamdan, described by his lawyers as a low-level worker, has said he was subjected to sleep deprivation and sexual improprieties while confined.

Hamdan was never read the rights against self-incrimination that suspects in U.S. criminal and military cases get and military commission judge Capt. Keith Allred has ruled what Hamdan told interrogators can be used against him in court.

40 INTERROGATORS

Defence attorneys displayed a list of 40 people who interrogated Hamdan, beginning in January 2002, including 21 FBI agents and 19 others.

There are as many as 29 government interrogation reports for sessions involving Hamdan, some lasting nearly two weeks, Michael Berrigan, deputy head of the military commissions defence team, told reporters after Friday’s session.

Missing from the list was the CIA, known to have interrogated terrorism suspects at Guantanamo and elsewhere with harsh techniques. It also omits any questioning by the Joint Task Force, the military group that maintains the Guantanamo detention centre.

Defence attorneys introduced a document indicating that Hamdan was interrogated in the middle of the night by someone whose identity is classified, between two days of questioning by FBI agent Daniel William.

“He was woken up in his sleep,” defence attorney Joseph McMillan said in court. William said had not known about this, but did not think it affected his own interview and Hamdan did not appear tired.

“There was no ‘good cop-bad cop,’” William said. “It was not anything we do.”

Hamdan’s lawyers said the document, discovered after the government gave them hundreds of pages of records last week, would spur new motions on the use of Hamdan’s statements.

Berrigan said at issue are “conditions of confinement and the way those conditions of confinement were manipulated ... to either enhance the ability to take statements or to manipulate the content of those statements, based on sleep deprivation, whatever it might be, or some combination of things.”

Military authorities disclosed on Friday that Hamdan had been taken to a hospital briefly on Thursday afternoon. Berrigan said Hamdan had had a fever and felt better on Friday, when he appeared in court.

Joint Task Force spokeswoman Cdr. Pauline Storum said medical staff had examined Hamdan and found him to be “in good health with no acute medical conditions.”

Editing by Jim Loney and Bill Trott

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