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Bin Laden's former driver guilty in terror trial

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  • Human Rights Watch official calls military trials "deeply flawed"
  • As convicted war criminal, Salim Hamdan will be held separately, Pentagon says
  • Osama bin Laden's ex-driver found guilty on some charges, cleared on others
  • White House looks forward to more trials of terror suspects
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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CNN) -- A U.S. military jury Wednesday convicted Osama bin Laden's former driver of providing material support to al Qaeda, but cleared him of terrorism conspiracy charges.

In an artist's rendering, Hamdan, left, sits with a member of his defense team during a June 2007 pretrial hearing.

Osama bin Laden's ex-driver, Salim Hamdan, in an undated photo, faces a possible life sentence.

The same jury of six officers began deliberating Salim Hamdan's sentence Wednesday afternoon. Hamdan, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, faces a sentence of up to life in prison.

Hamdan was found guilty of being the terror leader's bodyguard and driver, and of receiving weapons training and transporting and delivering arms.

However, jurors found Hamdan not guilty of conspiracy to aid a terror organization -- a charge alleging he conspired with others in carrying out al Qaeda attacks, including those of September 11, 2001. To find Hamdan guilty of conspiracy, jurors would have needed to find that he had an intent to aid and plan attacks.

Hamdan's attorney said the defendant cried as the verdict was read.

Both the Pentagon and White House said Hamdan received a fair trial.

"The full extent of the law and the facts were presented in the courtroom. Hamdan is now considered a convicted war criminal and is no longer considered an enemy combatant, and will be held separately from the other detainees at Guantanamo because of his new status," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Hamdan has been at Guantanamo since 2002. The trial began at Guantanamo on July 22, and deliberations began Monday. Video Watch as CNN's Jamie McIntyre explains the split verdict »

Prosecutors argued that Hamdan, who was picked up in southern Afghanistan in November 2001, had become a member of al Qaeda in 1996 and conspired with the group on terrorist attacks.

They alleged that Hamdan overheard conversations about 9/11 and had other information that showed he was part of bin Laden's inner circle.

However, the defense said Hamdan was a low-level driver who knew little about the workings of bin Laden's al Qaeda network. They said he worked for wages, not to wage attacks against the United States.

During the trial, a U.S. soldier who was present when Hamdan was captured originally said Hamdan was driving a car that had SA-7 surface-to-air missiles intended for al Qaeda. But on cross-examination, the soldier, identified only as Maj. Smith, said he could not be sure Hamdan was the driver of one of the three vehicles carrying the missiles.

Hamdan pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial.

The trial is the first conducted under the Military Commissions Act, a law passed in 2006 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against an earlier Bush administration plan for trying Guantanamo Bay detainees under military rules.

"We're pleased that Salim Hamdan received a fair trial," White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said. "We look forward to other cases moving forward to trial."

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, welcomed the verdict.

"This process of bringing terrorists to justice has been too long delayed, but I'm encouraged that it is finally moving forward," McCain said in a statement.

McCain took the opportunity to praise the use of military courts for the trials of suspected terrorists.

"Unlike Sen. [Barack] Obama, who voted against the [Military Commissions Act] and favors giving al Qaeda terrorists direct access to U.S. civilian courts to contest their detention, I recognize that we cannot treat dangerous terrorists captured on the battlefield as we would common criminals," he said.

Obama, the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee, said the fact that the trial "took several years of legal challenges to secure a conviction for material support for terrorism underscores the dangerous flaws in the administration's legal framework."

"It's time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice," Obama said. "And while it is important to convict anyone who provides material support for terrorism, it is long past time to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 Americans."

Carol Chodroff, the U.S. advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, was critical of the military trial system, saying there was too much secrecy related to evidence and testimony.


"The verdict ... I think was in in this case long before the jury went out to deliberate," Chodroff said. "That is that the military commission system at Guantanamo Bay is deeply flawed, that Mr. Hamdan could not and did not receive a fair trial."

Others have complained that Hamdan, who has been at Guantanamo since 2002, had to wait too many years before getting a trial.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

All About Guantanamo BaySalim Ahmed HamdanTerrorismOsama bin Laden

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