The Pentagon says its expects to make an announcement today or Wednesday about the transfer of a prisoner from the Guantanamo detention center, probably to his home country. News reports say the prisoner is Salim Hamdan, who once worked as the driver for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon, where officials have refused to confirm those reports.
News reports quote unnamed officials as saying Hamdan is being transferred to the custody of the government of his home country, Yemen, and that he will remain in prison there until his sentence for providing material support to terrorism is completed on December 27.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said he never comments on transfers or releases from Guantanamo until the action is completed. He said he expects an announcement Tuesday or Wednesday, but would not say whether it would be about Hamdan. He also portrayed any such move as part of the normal processing of detainees.
"It is the strong desire of the United States not to be the world jailers, but to work with countries around the world to keep these dangerous individuals from being able to return to the fight," he said.
The United States has released or transferred to custody in their home countries hundreds of Guantanamo detainees. But Hamdan's transfer would be among the most noteworthy. His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled two years ago that the original trial system at Guantanamo was unconstitutional and that he and other detainees could not be prosecuted using it.
That forced the Bush administration and the Congress to create a new system, under which Hamdan was convicted in August. He was sentenced to just five-and-a-half years, far less than prosecutors wanted. And he was given credit for most of the time he had already spent in custody, leaving him just a few more months to serve.
Under the U.S. government rules for Guantanamo, Hamdan could have been held even after his sentence ends because he is still considered an enemy combatant. Transfer to Yemeni custody, leaves it to authorities there to decide whether to hold him or release him when his American sentence ends.
"It's not a perfect system, and we all know that," Bryan Whitman said. "We know that there have been times when people have been ultimately released, and have returned to combat."
Hamdan, who told the court he is about 40 years old, could have faced life in prison if he had been convicted of conspiracy. His acquittal on that charge was a setback for prosecutors, and indicated that the jury of six U.S. military officers believed he was a minor functionary of al-Qaida, not a senior official as had been alleged. Hamdan was arrested in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.