In a ruling that comes far too late for the detainee himself but could have major implications for other US attempts to charge detainees with war crimes, a US Court of Appeals has determined that being Osama bin Laden’s driver in the late 1990’s is not a “war crime.”
The detainee, Salim Hamdan, was convicted of “war crimes” over the charge in August 2008, sentenced to 66 months in prison, but released because he was given time served credit for the years he was in Guantanamo Bay. He has been released and lives in Yemen.
The conviction was based on the 2006 Military Commissions Act and the defense argued that it amounted to an ex post facto prosecution, and also argued that driving a car doesn’t constitute a war crime. The second point was ignored by the court, however, which simply conceded the first point and dismissed the conviction.
The US Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, and it is likely to leave many of the potential prosecutions the administration is hoping for in trouble, as most rest on the 2006 law criminalizing things done prior to 2006.