As Gitmo jury deliberates, driver phones home

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — While a military jury was deciding the fate of Osama bin Laden's driver, the accused got to phone his wife and kids in their native Yemen.

The U.S. military granted Salim Hamdan, 37, a one-hour telephone call home on Monday evening, just as the five U.S. colonels and lieutenant colonels led by a Navy captain began considering the war crimes charges against him.

Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, the military said, with two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles in his car. His lawyer says he was returning in a borrowed car from dropping his then pregnant wife and daughter off at Pakistan's border.

He is accused of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism as the al Qaeda founder's alleged getaway driver — meaning had bin Laden's Afghan motorcade come under U.S. attack, it was Hamdan's job to floor it.

He also allegedly worked as a bodyguard and weapons courier. He faces 10 counts of war crimes, each one punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.

''We requested his wife to be here [for the trial],'' said Hamdan's longest-serving defense attorney, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, noting that traditionally a spouse is allowed to watch a court martial.

''But we were informed that, because she is married to someone accused of being a terrorist, she cannot come,'' he said.

Hamdan, whose lawyers say he has a fourth-grade education, married a Yemeni woman, Saboura, while working as bin Laden's $200-a-month driver. They have two daughters, Fatima and Salma, who was born during Hamdan's captivity.

Defense lawyers say this week's was Hamdan's fourth call home to his native Yemen. The first two were arranged by interrogators, and the last two under a once-a-year telephone call incentives program the military established with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Since spring, when the military organized the calls with the Red Cross, ''approximately 105 calls have been facilitated'' between the prison camps and families, said Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a detention center spokeswoman.

An FBI agent, George Crouch Jr., testified for the prosecution at trial that Hamdan got his first phone call as a perk in June 2002, a month after he arrived at Guantanamo.

Crouch and former FBI agent Ali Soufan found Hamdan in an uncooperative mood. So Soufan, a Lebanese native, took the driver outside an interrogation trailer at Camp Delta and made the call on a satellite phone.

It was the first time the Yemeni notified his wife that he had survived the U.S. invasion, said Crouch. Then Hamdan cried.