From the start, the military trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan had the makings of a mock trial, an exercise in testing the system, says the Los Angeles Times. Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, hardly fit the profile of a major war criminal. This week’s verdict — a partial conviction and a light sentence — may inject some much needed credibility into the Bush administration’s criticized system of military commissions. Such a boost could help the White House reach an even more important goal: trials by year’s end for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others who are accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks or of leading Al Qaeda.
After years of legal missteps at Guantanamo, the administration had much riding on whether Hamdan’s trial was considered fair. Contrary to widespread expectations, the military officers who served as jury and judge in Hamdan’s case did not act as a rubber stamp for the Pentagon. They acquitted Hamdan of a more serious charge, conspiracy, while convicting him only of providing support to Al Qeada. The jury gave Hamdan a sentence five months longer than the time he has been credited with serving at Guantanamo. Even critics saw some good signs. “This was a case of a fair-minded panel of military officers operating in a fundamentally unfair system,” said Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch. “The fact that the military officers performed their duties conscientiously does not make fair a system which allows the use of coerced evidence, is designed to cover up abuse and disregards basic due-process protections.”