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Bin Laden Driver Sentenced to 5 1/2 Years in Prison

A military jury at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has sentenced Osama Bin Laden's former driver to five-and-a-half years in prison on a charge of providing material support for terrorism. But because of credit for time already served, Salim Hamdan could be free in five months.

The jury's decision was announced Thursday, one day after Hamdan was convicted. Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 30 years for Hamdan, who was cleared of a conspiracy charge.

Earlier, the defendant told the six-member jury that he was merely a low-level employee for bin Laden and not aware of al-Qaida activities. He pleaded for leniency and expressed regret over innocent people being killed. Hamdan said he apologized if anything he did caused the victims pain.

Now that the sentence has been imposed, Hamdan can appeal to another military panel, and then to a U.S. civilian court. But the U.S. government has argued that it can detain Hamdan for an indefinite period as an "enemy combatant."

The White House said Hamdan received a fair trial, calling the military commission system a "fair and appropriate" legal process. It was the first full trial of terror suspects at Guantanamo.

During the two-week trial, prosecutors said Hamdan delivered weapons and helped protect bin Laden. Defense attorneys argued the Yemeni was a simple man who just wanted to earn a living and was not part of al-Qaida.

Prosecutors say two surface-to-air missiles were found in Hamdan's vehicle when he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Guantanamo has been the focus of intense criticism since the prison opened in 2002. Some 265 people captured in the U.S.-led war on terror are being held there, and most have not been charged.

A Human Rights Watch spokeswoman, Stacy Sullivan, who observed the trial, says rights groups do not believe Hamdan ever had a chance at a fair trial. She said the commissions lack fundamental due process guarantees.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.