Not guilty plea as first Guantanamo trial starts

/ Source: The Associated Press

The first Guantanamo war crimes trial began Monday with a not guilty plea from a former driver and alleged bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, entered the plea through his lawyer at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.

He is the first prisoner to face a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II.

Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, called a jury pool of American military officers into the courtroom and began reading them instructions. A minimum of five of the 13 officers must be selected for the trial.

Hamdan, a Yemeni, wore a khaki prison jumpsuit to the courtroom. The flowing white robe and headdress he wore at pretrial hearings was not cleaned in time for his trial, said Charles Swift, one of his civilian attorneys.

The trial is expected to take three to four weeks, with testimony from nearly two dozen Pentagon witnesses.

Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in the car. But his lawyers say he was merely a low-level driver and mechanic without any role in the al-Qaida conspiracy against the United States.

Repeated legal obstacles
Hamdan was taken to Guantanamo in May 2002 and selected as one of the first inmates to face prosecution. His case has created repeated legal obstacles for the Pentagon including a Supreme Court ruling that struck down an earlier version of the tribunal system.

Allred began the proceedings Monday by indicating that he would not allow the government to use some of the evidence interrogators obtained from Hamdan during his detention in Afghanistan. Defense lawyers have argued those statements were tainted by “coercive” techniques and the fact that interrogators did not advise him of a right against self-incrimination.

The United States has so far charged 20 Guantanamo prisoners and military officials say they expect to prosecute about 80 in all.