GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (CNN) -- A jury of six military officers Thursday sentenced Osama bin Laden's former driver to 5½ years in prison after his conviction on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda.
Osama bin Laden's ex-driver, Salim Hamdan, in an undated photo, could go to prison for 30 years or more.
After Salim Hamdan serves his sentence, he could still be kept as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo Bay.
He has been imprisoned at the U.S. military detention center since 2002 and has been credited with 61 months served. That means that he has five months left to serve.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said after the verdict Wednesday that Hamdan was now a "convicted war criminal" and that he was "no longer considered an enemy combatant."
But on Thursday, Whitman said Hamdan's status would revert to "enemy combatant" when his sentence is completed.
As an enemy combatant, Hamdan can be held indefinitely by the United States, although he would be eligible to appeal to an administrative review board to determine whether his status as an enemy combatant should continue.
Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 30 years to life in prison, while defense attorneys sought a sentence of 45 months or less.
The jury cleared Hamdan of terrorism conspiracy charges, including that he conspired with others to carry out the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Hamdan testified that he was "shocked" when he found out about the September 11 attacks, and expressed sorrow as he pleaded for leniency at a sentencing hearing in Guantanamo Bay.
"It was impossible in my mind that Osama bin Laden would be behind it," said Hamdan who was working for him at the time of the attacks.
"My view and my thinking had changed completely. It was big shock for me when someone had treated you with respect and regard, and then you realize what they were up to," he said.
"It was a sorry or sad thing to see innocent people killed. I don't know what could be given or presented to these innocent people who were killed in the U.S.," Hamdan said, speaking through an Arab-language translator.
"I personally present my apologies to them, if anything what I did have caused them pain," he said.
In making his case, Hamdan pointed out that Australian David Hicks, who pleaded guilty last year to supporting terrorism, was sentenced to nine months instead of the seven years recommended by a jury.
The judge allowed Hicks, who had been at Guantanamo for more than five years, to serve his time in Australia. Hicks admitted training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, where he was captured in December 2001, one month after Hamdan was taken into custody.
"He is free with his family right now, with his children," Hamdan said.
He told the court that he had only an employee-employer relationship -- a relationship of respect -- with the al Qaeda leader. Watch how Hamdan described bin Laden »
Hamdan tried to make the case to jurors that he was only a driver, and described his relationship with bin Laden as "normal."
He said he treated bin Laden as an employee would treat a boss and, in turn, bin Laden treated him in a way that took into account his position.
"I respected him, and he respected me," Hamdan said. "I regarded him, and he regarded me."
Hamdan was cool and calm as he addressed the court, wearing a light-colored jacket, a white shirt and traditional white headdress.
He was taken into custody in southern Afghanistan in November 2001. Though the car he was driving contained missiles, he said from the beginning the car was borrowed and the missiles weren't his. He repeated his assertions Thursday.
He made some of his comments in a closed session, which the government said was necessary in case classified information was raised.
Hamdan testified he had wanted to settle in his native country, Yemen, but after the attack in 2000 by an explosives-laden motorboat on the USS Cole in Yemen's Gulf of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors, he and his wife left the country.
According to Hamdan, Yemeni media were blaming the attack on the Israeli Mossad, and he didn't know until later that al Qaeda was behind it.
When the U.S.-led war began in Afghanistan after 9/11, Hamdan said, he took his family to Pakistan for their safety, and he left them to return the car he had borrowed.
During the trial, prosecutors argued Hamdan became 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 claimed to have other information showing he was part of bin Laden's inner circle.
The defense contended that 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 war against America.
The trial began July 22, and deliberations started Monday.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Mike Mount contributed to this report.
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