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22 Jul, 2008 00:51

Bin Laden driver on trial at Guantanamo

The first war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay has started. Salim Hamdan – who was Osama bin Laden's driver – has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and supporting terrorism. The judge has barred some of the evidence, as it was gained du

High-level people like Khalil Sheikh Mohammed – one of the reported masterminds behind the attack on the World Trade Center – might be called to testify in Hamdan's case. But it's not clear whether his testimony will even count as everything he says is considered classified information.

Ken Gude from the American Progress International Rights and Responsibilities Program says the outcome of the trial is a foregone conclusion: “The judges have probably already decided Hamdan is guilty”, he said. “So this won't be a real trial, more like a demonstration rather than a trial”.

The opening trial comes amid rising pressure against the U.S. administration over the reported torture of prisoners. A video was recently released showing Canadian officials questioning Omar Khadr – the youngest detainee at Guantanamo and a Canadian citizen. The 21-year-old appears to be in a poor psychological state which critics say is the result of mistreatment by U.S. officials in the days leading up to the interrogation. They say he was deprived of sleep, and moved from one cell to another every two hours.

The debate about Guantanamo has also featured in the presidential race. Both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have vowed to shut down the prison.

The days of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay may be numbered. But many issues still remain. Experts say the biggest challenge for the next administration will be what to do with the detainees who won't be tried. And Guantanmo is likely to remain the focus of international criticism over Washington’s handling of the war on terror.