WASHINGTON A federal judge gave a green light Thursday afternoon to a military commission trial set to begin Monday in Cuba for Osama bin Laden's former driver.
After a two-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge James Robertson declined Yemeni native Salim Hamdan's request to delay the trial, to be held at the prison in Guantanamo Bay. Hamdan had challenged the trial, claiming that he was being treated unconstitutionally.
"His claims of unlawfulness are all claims that should first be decided by the military commission and then raised on appeal," Robertson declared from the bench.
Robertson noted that unlike in 2004, when he agreed with Hamdan to postpone his trial, Congress has explicitly authorized the five-member military commissions that will hear the case.
"Hamdan is to face a military commission that was designed by Congress, acting according to guidelines set by the Supreme Court," Robertson noted.
Hamdan's attorney, Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University Law Center professor, will appeal the ruling and contends that the military commission trials remain seriously flawed.
"A temporary pause is appropriate," Katyal argued, adding, "The fastest and best and most efficient way for Mr. Hamdan is to get this right the first time."
Hamdan's trial will be the first of its kind and will come about a month after the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution permits Guantanamo Bay detainees to challenge their detention through habeas corpus petitions. Robertson's ruling stressed that those challenges could take place without interfering with Monday's trial.
The 37-year-old Hamdan was seized in Afghanistan in November 2001 and subsequently a special U.S. tribunal declared him to be enemy combatant. Prosecutors have charged him with conspiracy and with providing material support to al-Qaida terrorists.
Hamdan acknowledges serving as bin Laden's driver but denies terrorism involvement. Hamdan further says that military commissions will rely on evidence obtained through coercion, including by depriving him of sleep on an hourly basis for nearly two months.
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