A Yemeni captive in isolation at the Guantanamo Bay prison acknowledges being Osama bin Laden's $200-a-month driver in Afghanistan but denies being a member of al Qaeda, The Miami Herald reported Wednesday.
"He fully admits that he was an employee of Osama bin Laden" from 1997 until the U.S. attack on Afghanistan in 2001, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift told the newspaper. "He worked for Osama bin Laden solely for the purpose of supporting himself and his family."
Swift, a lawyer, has been assigned to represent the captive, 34-year-old Salim Ahmed Salim Hamdan.
Pentagon policy has prohibited troops and civilians at the Navy base in Cuba from disclosing specifics about prisoners being held there. The Herald said Swift received special Pentagon clearances. Swift said he has met with Hamdan for about 25 hours using an Arabic translator - making him the first Guantanamo detainee publicly identified as having a link to bin Laden.
Swift said Pentagon rules prevented him from describing his client physically, saying how long he had been in the prison or whether Hamdan has cooperated with interrogators.
Hamdan began working for bin Laden in 1997 on his farm in the Afghan city of Kandahar, and drove a Toyota pickup truck, Swift said. His responsibilities included moving workers to the fields and the al Qaeda mastermind around Afghanistan.
Hamdan first went to Afghanistan in 1996, and had planned to travel to Tajikistan to join Muslims fighting former Soviet communists, the lawyer said. He never made the trip but found the job with bin Laden that paid $200 a month, a large salary in Afghanistan.
"In respect to the prospect of a trial by military commission, he denies that he's a terrorist, al Qaeda or a combatant in the international conflict in Afghanistan. He is a civilian worker who was caught up in the war," Swift said.
Air Force Col. Will Gunn, chief of the tribunal defense team, said this week he assigned Swift to represent the Yemeni after prosecutors named Hamdan as a candidate for plea negotiations.
None of the four terrorism suspects at Guantanamo who have been given lawyers has been charged with any crime. Gunn said the charges have not been identified but they would likely involve conspiracy.
Hamdan, who is married and has a 2- and 4-year-old daughter, was captured by Afghan forces during the U.S. attacks and turned over to the Americans about two years ago, Swift said.
Since Hamdan was given counsel on Dec. 18, he has been held in solitary confinement in a windowless air-conditioned cell and permitted exercise only at night, "so he never sees the sun," Swift said.
"He has asked me to implore the president to allow him a civilian trial in which he may demonstrate his innocence," Swift said. "He's adamant that he is a civilian and belongs in a civilian court."