Saturday, August 09, 2008


Only in America ! The picture to the left is that of Salim Hamdan in happier times. Hamdan is one of those captured by the Americans when they invaded Afghanistan without a declaration of war and accused of "war crimes". Seems like the Nazis invading Poland and then declaring any Poles who fought back as "war criminals". Even Hitler's minions had no such gall. But Mr. Hamdan didn't even fight back. His crime ? He was Osama Bin Laden's chauffeur. You heard me right. By the same American logic anyone who ever cooked Hitler one of his vegetarian meals, any barber who ever cut Stalin's hair, any tailor who ever sewed Mao's shirts and any janitor who ever cleaned Pol Pot's toilets is "guilty of genocide".

All that is well and good, even if the absurdity of such sort of prosecutions is obvious to anyone but neo-conservative ideologues. The United States holds about 5% of the world's population, but I swear that they have 60% of the world's nuts, coming in all different political and religious flavours. Now, in true American form, the story is to be made into a movie. No doubt it will play well in Peshawar. Here's the story from the pages of the British newspaper 'The Guardian'.

George Clooney, already one of Hollywood's leading liberal voices, has embarked on what may be one of his most controversial projects: the story of Osama bin Laden's driver.

Clooney's production company, Smokehouse, has bought the rights to a book about Salim Hamdan, an inmate at Guantánamo Bay who last week was sentenced to jail for his role in helping the al-Qaeda leader. The book, The Challenge, is by journalist Jonathan Mahler and tells the story of Hamdan's capture and trial, defended by a US navy lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift. It has had a big critical success.

Last week Yemen-born Hamdan, who has already spent seven years in US custody, received a surprisingly light sentence of just five and a half years for being bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan. Prosecutors had billed the case as a key plank in the 'War on Terror', designed to show that terrorists could be dealt with by Guantánamo. They had described Hamdan as a member of bin Laden's inner circle who had knowledge of his terrorist plans.

Defence lawyers, however, portrayed him as a simple man who had taken a high-paying job in order to feed his family. A military jury seemed to agree with that assessment, clearing him of terrorist conspiracy charges, but finding him guilty of providing support to a terrorist.

The case became a cause célèbre on both sides of America's political divide. Supporters saw it as a chance to show Guantánamo was effectively and fairly dealing with terrorists. Critics, meanwhile, saw it as an abusive system that was using low-level prisoners as scapegoats.

Clooney is believed to be interested in playing the role of lawyer Swift and the case certainly has all the drama and tension of any fictional legal thriller. Aside from the terrorism and exotic locations, The Challenge describes Swift's battle as a classic case of a crusading 'little guy' winning against the odds. When he was first assigned Hamdan's case Swift was a relatively inexperienced, young military lawyer. Few expected him to mount much of a defence. But he led a team that took Hamdan's case to the Supreme Court and won. However, his work was not without cost, as he pushed the case so hard it cost him his marriage and saw him passed over for promotion.

But Swift did not stop. Last week, during Hamdan's sentencing, he appealed to the court to let him go back to his family in Yemen: something now seen as a possibility given the length of time he has served. 'The best chance for him to rehabilitate is to reunite with that family. He won't put them at risk again,' Swift said. In an ending that seems written for a movie, the military judge in the trial, Captain Keith Allred, even said in court that he hoped Hamdan would see his family soon.

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