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BEIJING- A U.S. military judge denied on Thursday prisoner-of-war status to Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin laden, thus clearing the way for him to face a war crimes tribunal at the base.     The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, rejected defense arguments that Hamdan was a POW and thus beyond the jurisdiction of the Guantanamo tribunals under international law.

    POWs can be tried by court-martial but not in ad hoc tribunals such as those still evolving at Guantanamo.

    Lawyers for Hamdan said he was a civilian support worker who should be considered a prisoner of war.

    The judge said Yemeni prisoner Hamdan is an “unlawful enemy combatant” under the law passed by Congress last year to provide a legal basis to try non-Americans on terrorism charges in a special war crimes court at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Allred said there is credible evidence Hamdan was bin Laden’s personal driver from 1997-2001, occasionally served as a bodyguard for the al-Qaida leader, and sometimes picked up and delivered weapons.

    Hamdan, who U.S. military records show is about 37, faces up to life in prison if the tribunal convicts him of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

    The ruling is a victory for the Pentagon, which has struggled to prosecute suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo amid repeated legal challenges.

    Some of about 300 inmates at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay have been held for as long as six years.


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