A federal appeals court in Washington overturned the conviction of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, and ruled military tribunals were not authorized to try prisoners suspected of providing material support to terrorist groups before 2006.
In a 3-0 ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that material support for terrorism was not a crime under international law when Hamdan worked for Al Qaeda.
“If the government wanted to charge Hamdan with aiding and abetting terrorism or some other war crime that was sufficiently rooted in the international law of war at the time of Hamdan’s conduct, it should have done so,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
All three judges were Republican presidential appointees.
Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in 2001.
His lawyers successfully challenged President George W. Bush’s system of military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, leading Congress to enact the Military Commissions Act in 2006. A military jury convicted Hamdan of material support for terrorism in 2008 and cleared him of a conspiracy charge.
The decision could significant endanger other military commission cases, according to human rights lawyers.
Hamdan met began working for Bin Laden in 1996, eventually earning a place as the Al Qaeda leader’s driver, the Associated Press reported. Defense attorneys claimed Hamdan worked only for the $200-a-month salary, but prosecutors argued Hamdan was a Bin Laden bodyguard who transported weapons for his terrorist network and helped the Al Qaeda leader escape reprisal by the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Associated Press.
Hamdan was returned to Yemen in 2008 and released.