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Soldier defends bin Laden’s driver

(The Miami Herald) The Pentagon has assigned a former New Jersey prosecutor who served in Iraq during the U.S. invasion to defend Osama bin Laden’s driver, the man who took his case to the Supreme Court, and won. Army Maj. Thomas Roughneen, 38, said he met the driver, Salim Hamdan, 36, of Yemen for more than 35 hours at Guantánamo Bay, the remote Navy base in Cuba — alongside the man he replaces, now retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift. Right away, Roughneen said, he told his client about his 2003 service in U.S.-occupied Iraq — as a U.S. Army officer engaged in nation-building. ”I didn’t think he should learn from anyone else,” he said. “There’s obviously a lot to overcome for a guy like me, who has been to Iraq, to convince Salim that I’m worth trusting.” In taking the assignment, Roughneen joins a fraternity of military and civilian lawyers who have argued that President Bush’s post-9/11 war court — called military commissions — deny a captive fundamental U.S. legal principles guaranteed in U.S. civilian and military courts. ”This is the first time in American history that I recall evidence that is defined as cruel and unusual could be used against Salim Hamdan,” he said in an interview Monday. Advocates of the system, among them the chief prosecutor, defend the proposed format for military trials as fundamentally fair — and say foreign captives don’t get protections guaranteed to U.S. citizens because the nation is at war. Hamdan, a father of two with a fourth-grade education, is accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism while working as bin Laden’s $200-a-month driver on the al Qaeda founder’s Kandahar, Afghanistan, farm at the time of the 9/11 attacks. With reputed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed not yet charged with any crime, Hamdan is the most prominent alleged al Qaeda member facing prospective trial by the Bush administration. He gained prominence as the Guantánamo captive in a Supreme Court challenge that upended President Bush’s first effort to try war-on-terror captives by military commissions. Hamdan’s military lawyer, Swift, led the charge and was passed over for promotion, forcing his retirement last week under an up-or-out Pentagon system. Swift is now teaching at the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, and will continue to lead the Hamdan defense team as a civilian. Newly reconstituted commissions are now in hiatus because two military judges at Guantánamo separately dismissed charges against Hamdan and a second captive, Omar Khadr of Canada, on grounds they had never been properly classified as “unlawful enemy combatants.” In parallel, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a peripheral Guantánamo challenge next year — and Roughneen said he is confident the current system would collapse under high court scrutiny. ”It’s like the Titanic. You know someday the ship is going to sink,” he said. “God almighty, let’s get there already.” Meantime, Roughneen said, he and Hamdan have a common goal: to get him freed from Guantánamo and home to his native Yemen. The New Jersey native and 1995 Seton Hall Law School graduate said his new assignment is a natural fit — for an American soldier who has both prosecuted rapes, murders and carjackings in New Jersey’s Essex County and promoted democracy in northern Iraq as a civil affairs officer. ”I think it is overreaching — after a crime, after arrest — to create a whole new court with new rules of evidence and new crimes,” he said. Roughneen got the new job just weeks ahead of the arrival of a new chief defense counsel, who replaces U.S. Marine Reserves Col. Dwight Sullivan, a former civil liberties lawyer. He is Army Col. Steve David, who in civilian life is a reservist and an elected judge in the Boone County Circuit Court of Lebanon, Ind. He takes up the post next week.

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August 7, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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