FBI says bin Laden driver didn't cooperate

July 24, 2008 5:13:22 PM PDT
A captured driver for Osama bin Laden did not fully cooperate with efforts to find the terrorist leader, FBI agents said Thursday, countering defense claims that he provided valuable assistance.Salim Hamdan initially did not volunteer details about bin Laden's inner circle or the operations of al-Qaida, agents said as they testified in the fourth day of the Guantanamo prisoner's war crimes trial.

"I thought he might have been holding back," said FBI special agent Craig Donnachie, who questioned Hamdan in Afghanistan in January 2002. "For somebody who was so close to bin Laden, there was more there I didn't get with my three days with him."

The defendant is charged with aiding terrorism and conspiracy in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors have sought to portray him as an active member of al-Qaida while the defense claims that Hamdan was a low-level employee.

The FBI agents testifying for the prosecution said the Yemeni prisoner, who has been held at Guantanamo since May 2002, eventually provided with details about bin Laden's travel routes and associates. But prosecutors said his assistance was so late that it was of little value.

Hamdan was captured at a roadblock in Afghanistan in November 2001. Two months later, he acknowledged his links to the al-Qaida chief and led U.S. agents on a tour of bin Laden's abandoned compounds and guesthouses in the southern city of Kandahar, officials said.

Stewart Kelley, an FBI agent who interrogated Hamdan at Guantanamo, said Hamdan cut a session short in February 2003 without answering all his questions. He felt that may have deprived authorities of new leads.

"It could have given us more avenues to investigate," Kelley told jurors. "We really could have branched out."

Another FBI agent, Omar Barghouty, said Hamdan has agreed to testify against another Guantanamo prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, at his upcoming trial. He will say that he overheard al-Nashiri, who is accused of helping organize the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, admit to the crime, he said.

Donnachie said that in his interrogations Hamdan confessed to attending an al-Qaida training camp, where he learned to use an AK-47 and other weapons in the late 1990s, but decided he did not want to become a fighter.

"He just wanted to go back to the guesthouse and be with his family," he said.

The trial, which began Monday, is expected to take three to four weeks. The U.S. says it plans to prosecute about 80 Guantanamo prisoners for war crimes.