Hamdan sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Prosecutors had sought at least 30 years for bin Laden's former driver; instead, he'll be eligible for release in six months.

Published August 7, 2008 8:26PM (EDT)

In a decision that could prove embarrassing to the Bush administration, Salim Hamdan, the former driver for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to just 66 months in prison. Hamdan, the first man tried in the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, was convicted of material support for terrorism Wednesday -- he was acquitted of a conspiracy charge.

The government had asked the six-member military jury that convicted Hamdan to sentence him to at least 30 years in prison, if not life. "Your sentence should say the United States will hunt you down and give you a harsh but appropriate sentence if you provide material support for terrorism," prosecutor John Murphy told the jury.

Hamdan had asked for leniency, telling the jury that at first he didn't know bin Laden was a terrorist, and that he continued working for him only so that he could support his family. His lawyer, Charles Swift, urged the jury to consider Hamdan's cooperation with the jury, and to be lenient so as not to discourage others from cooperating. And, Swift argued, a lighter sentence for Hamdan would make any punishment given to the actual planners of the 9/11 attacks that much more significant.

The jury made its decision even knowing that Hamdan will be given five years of credit for the time he has spent in detention, meaning that he could potentially be released in only six months. However, even Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the presiding judge, said he doesn't know what would happen to Hamdan once his sentence is up, since he has also been designated an enemy combatant. Hamdan will likely be able to go through the same review process as other detainees, Allred said.

After the sentence was announced, Hamdan thanked the jury, saying, "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."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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