Harry Schneider, a lawyer at Seattle-based Perkins Coie, spoke to a group of over 100 people Monday afternoon as part of The International Law Workshop.
Schneider talked about his involvement in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden, and as a result was accused of engaging in acts of terrorism against the United States. Hamad was detained by the United States for nearly eight years before he won his case.
Though he faced serious charges of assisting one of the most wanted criminals in American history, Hammad was only found guilty of materially supporting bin Ladin, after arguments from a legal team that included Schneider, court-appointed lawyer Lt. Commander Charles Swift, Georgetown University Law Prof. Neal Katyal and others from Perkins Coie.
Hamdan was first apprehended on Nov. 24, 2001 after dropping his daughter and pregnant wife off at the Pakistan boarder. His second daughter was born while he was detained, and he didn’t meet her until he was released years later.
During his time as a detainee, he was subject to harsh interrogation, including sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation. He was imprisoned in several facilities, including the notorious Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
Hamdan was born in Yemen and orphaned at an early age. He was not extensively educated. Schneider said Hamdan’s job offer from bin Laden offered a drastically different standard of living than he could have expected otherwise.
“He was told that if he stayed in Afghanistan, he could work and earn ten times the money he could ever hope to earn in Yemen,” Schneider said.
Hamdan was first employed by bin Laden in 1996 to transport agricultural workers who worked on bin Laden’s farm. Eventually, Hamdan became the al-Qaida leader’s personal driver. Although Hamdan was not unaware of bin Laden’s activities, he wasn’t a central figure to his terroristic acts.
During the trial, it was determined that President George W. Bush had overstepped his constitutional authority by failing to formally charge Hammad for two years after he was apprehended and violating detainment rules of the Geneva Convention.
On Feb. 7, 2002, Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions would not apply to detainees captured in the conflict in Afghanistan. Schneider pointed out the irony of this, as the United States had been a major player in securing the rights of war prisoners at Geneva in 1949.
Schneider said he suspects the U.S. government waited to charge him so could build a case against him.
“There was no upside in proceeding before they were ready,” he said.
These unusual and controversial factors made the victory that much sweeter, Schneider said.
Seven years after being apprehended, Hamdan was finally released in January 2009.
“It was pretty close to the best thing that could have happened.”