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Ex-Guantanamo prisoner arrives home in Yemen

Williams is a Times staff writer.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver and bodyguard for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, arrived in his Yemeni homeland after being released from Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon disclosed late Tuesday.

The transfer Tuesday marked an end to the seven-year odyssey that began with the Yemeni’s capture at a roadblock in Afghanistan as U.S. forces bombarded suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“As part of a transfer agreement with the United States, the remainder of Hamdan’s sentence will be served in Yemen,” a brief Pentagon statement announced, referring to the few weeks Hamdan has left in a sentence due to end Dec. 27.

Hamdan, a man with a fourth-grade education believed to be about 40, was convicted by a six-member military jury in August and sentenced to serve 66 months for providing material support for terrorism. He was acquitted at the end of a three-week trial of the more serious charge of conspiracy and credited by the judge, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, for the 61 months he had already spent at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since being charged.

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Hamdan, whose challenge to his detention led the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 to quash the original war crimes tribunal established by President Bush, was only the second Guantanamo prisoner to win release after being formally charged with terrorism. Australian David Hicks was freed under a plea bargain last year and completed the last seven months of his sentence in his homeland.

Yemeni authorities reportedly agreed to detain Hamdan for the remaining month of his sentence and to monitor him to ensure he doesn’t resume contact or collaboration with terrorist groups. But similar conditions imposed in exchange for release of other former Guantanamo prisoners have been ignored by their national authorities after repatriation and risk assessments.

Hamdan’s defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said he had been provided little information by the U.S. government about his client’s transfer.

“Attorneys should have many rights under this system, and so should an accused. But those just don’t happen at Guantanamo,” he said. “The way things happen in Guantanamo is that your client is whisked away in the middle of the night and you find out about it in the newspapers.”

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Of the nearly 800 men brought to Guantanamo since the detention network was built at the U.S. naval base in January 2002, about 250 remain. The majority have been released or transferred to their home countries for lack of evidence to put them on trial for war crimes.

Nearly 100 of the prisoners still at Guantanamo are Yemeni, and Hamdan’s release could portend a breakthrough in years-long efforts to repatriate most of them.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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