Editor's Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme "The Al-Qaida We Don't Know."
Salim Hamdan was not a typical al-Qaida prisoner. For seven years prior to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden's personal driver and bodyguard. He had been caught red handed on an al-Qaida film carrying an AK 47 while protecting the al-Qaida chief, and as if that weren't enough, pictures of Hamdan's car at the time of his arrest showed two SAM 7 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles there on the backseat. Hardly the normal accoutrement for an innocent chauffer!
Given the apparently overwhelming evidence, the prosecution team was confident it would win a conviction on charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism, followed by a sentence of from 30 years to life. At stake was more than just one man's freedom. Hamdan's case was meant to serve as a litmus test of the Bush administration's system of military commissions to try detainees in the War on Terror.