A federal judge in Washington has refused to halt the war crimes trial of Osama bin Laden’s former driver.
The action clears the way for what is expected to become the first trial of a terror suspect via military commission at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday.
Lawyers for Salim Ahmed Hamden had asked US District Judge James Robertson to delay the start of the war crimes trial, saying the legal foundations of the tribunal process had been undermined by a recent US Supreme Court decision.
After a two-hour hearing on Thursday, Judge Robertson declined to block the trial. In a statement from the bench he said that under the military commission system set up by Congress and the White House, Mr. Hamdan’s lawyers must wait until a final verdict in the trial before raising their constitutional challenges.
A military judge at Guantánamo had earlier rejected similar arguments from Hamdan’s lawyers.
Judge Robertson’s decision not to delay the trial marks a victory for the Bush administration in its effort to build legitimacy for its controversial legal approach to the war on terror.
Military officials have been pushing hard – despite a string of legal setbacks – to conduct several war crimes trials this year.
Hamdan is facing trial on terror conspiracy and material support charges. His lawyers had urged Judge Robertson to postpone the military tribunal to allow Hamdan a new round of legal challenges.
The case was being closely watched because it could have greatly increased the constitutional protections applicable not only in Hamdan’s trial, but also in the trial of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Shaikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders.
The Bush administration’s military commission process has sparked condemnation by critics in the US and overseas. They say it is rigged to produce convictions by allowing hearsay evidence coerced during harsh interrogations.
Administration officials defend the special military commission process as a necessary innovation to wage the war on terror without jeopardizing sensitive intelligence sources and methods.
The Hamdan hearing was among an array of cases moving forward in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 12 decision extending certain constitutional protections to terror suspects at Guantánamo.