Last Updated Fri, 15 Jul 2005 16:06:21 EDT
An appeal court in Washington has ruled that the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners does not apply to members of al-Qaeda.
The decision clears the way for a military commission consisting of three U.S. colonels to judge Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, who was Osama Bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan.
Prisoners and guards at U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (CP file photo)
The colonels will operate under rules laid down by President George W. Bush for what he called a war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
The U.S. has charged Hamdan with conspiracy to attack civilians, destruction of property, terrorism and murder, but it's not seeking the death penalty.
Hamdan is alleged to have trained at an al-Qaeda-sponsored camp, delivered weapons to al-Qaeda members and served as Bin Laden's bodyguard and chauffeur.
The 35-year-old Yemeni was captured in Afghanistan in November, 2001. He has acknowledged driving for Bin Laden. But his court-appointed lawyer, a U.S. Navy officer, argued last year that he was "a mechanic who drove people around," not a terrorist.
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On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia overturned a November decision in which a federal judge said it had yet to be determined whether Hamdan was a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention.
The November decision temporarily blocked Hamdan's trial by the military commission, where his rights — including the right to hear the evidence against him — are more limited than in a U.S. civilian court or a military court-martial.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden (CP file photo)
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With full Geneva Convention protection, a prisoner "can be validly sentenced only if the sentence has been pronounced by the same courts according to the same procedure as in the case of members of the armed forces of the detaining power."
In Thursday's decision, the appeal court systematically rejected Hamdan's claims for such protection, saying that al-Qaeda is not a nation, does not have uniformed troops operating under the laws and customs of war, has not signed the Geneva Convention and can hardly be seen as foreign power following treaty rules.
"Even if al-Qaeda could be considered a power, which we doubt, no one claims that al-Qaeda has accepted and applied the provisions of the convention," the panel said in a 20-page ruling.
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