Bin Laden driver gets lenient sentence

A jury of American military officers sentenced Osama bin Laden's driver to five-and-a-half years in prison yesterday for supporting terrorism, far short of the 30 years sought by military prosecutors.

While the sentence suggested Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, would be freed in just five months – as he has already spent five years and a month in Guantanamo – the US military said he would continue to be held as an "enemy combatant".

The judge, navy captain Keith Allred, told the prisoner that he did not know what would happen at the end of the sentence. But he said: "I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters... Inshallah [God willing]."

Hamdan, who was cleared of conspiracy to murder, was the first person to be tried by the tribunal system set up to try non-US captives on terrorism charges outside the US.

The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said: "He'll still be retained as an enemy combatant. But... he then becomes eligible for the annual review board process to determine whether he's eligible for release or transfer."

Hamdan apologised for any pain his services to al-Qa'ida caused its American victims. "I present my apologies to them if what I did has caused them pain."

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