Bin Laden driver denied al-Qaida ties in video

July 23, 2008 5:20:04 PM PDT
U.S. military prosecutors on Wednesday played an interrogation video that shows a driver for Osama bin Laden denying any connection to al-Qaida but also fretting that he is "finished."Salim Hamdan, kneeling before a masked American soldier, insists that he works for an Islamic charity in the video that U.S. Special Forces soldiers recorded in Afghanistan shortly after his capture in November 2001.

"It is all finished for me, why should I lie?" said Hamdan, who appeared much heavier in the recording that ended with soldiers placing a bag over his head.

The videotape was entered as evidence against Hamdan in the first Guantanamo war crimes trial. The Yemeni prisoner now acknowledges working for bin Laden, but only as a low-level member of his motor pool. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

As the video began Wednesday, Hamdan asked to leave the specially built courtroom on this U.S. Navy base and was led out by guards, saying "I can't. I'm sorry."

He returned about an hour later and apologized to the judge.

A former FBI agent also testified Wednesday that Hamdan was so close to bin Laden that he attended a meeting of top al-Qaida aides the day of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hamdan heard bin Laden praise the attacks and the hijackers at the meeting in Afghanistan, former agent Ali Soufan said as prosecutors sought to build their case in the first U.S. military war crimes trial since World War II.

Bin Laden even gave Hamdan marriage advice and held a feast for him after his marriage, Soufan said, recounting interrogations of the prisoner at Guantanamo to counter defense claims that the defendant was a lowly driver with no significant link to terrorism.

"It shows a close relationship and the affinity that Mr. bin Laden has for him," said Soufan, addressing the Pentagon-selected jury of U.S. military officers, referring to the wedding celebration.

Hamdan's car was stopped at a roadblock in southern Afghanistan, where troops searched the vehicle and allegedly found two surface-to-air missiles and a Taliban permit to carry weapons. He was captured after attempting to flee. In the interrogation video, he said he ran because he was startled by shooting in the area.

"Goodness, a person gets scared," he said in Arabic. "I feared for my life."

Hamdan's interrogator, identified only as "Sgt. Maj. A," testified this week that he cut his two sessions with the prisoner short because he was not providing any information helpful for U.S.


Soufan, who was a top FBI terrorism expert until he left the agency in 2005, said Hamdan helped move bin Laden and one of his sons, Uthman, to a safer location days before Sept. 11, 2001.

After the attacks, Hamdan continued to help bin Laden despite hearing him boast about the number of people killed, he said.

"He heard bin Laden saying that he didn't expect the operation to be that successful," Soufan said. "He only thought 1,000 or 1,500 people would perish, so he was happy about the results."