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Jurors back to deliberate in 1st Gitmo trial
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    GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A Pentagon jury was weighing a verdict for a former driver and alleged bodyguard for Osama bin Laden on Tuesday as the U.S. neared completion of its first war crimes trial since World War II.
    The panel of six American military officers, hand-picked by the Defense Department, began its second day of deliberations at this U.S. Navy base in the case against Salim Hamdan.
    As the jury met in private, prosecutors raised a challenge to the jury instructions regarding the definition of a war crime that could make it harder to convict Hamdan of conspiracy. The defense countered that redoing the instructions would prompt a mistrial.
    Hamdan is charged with two counts of conspiracy and eight of aiding terrorism. A conviction on any one of the charges could bring a sentence of life in prison for the Yemeni.
    In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors said Hamdan’s service to the al-Qaida chief over five years in Afghanistan helped his boss execute terrorist plots including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
    ‘‘He is an al-Qaida warrior,’’ Justice Department prosecutor John Murphy said, pointing to the detainee, dressed in a white robe and tan sports coat.
    Defense attorneys say Hamdan was low-level bin Laden employee who stayed with him only for the US$200-a-month salary. In an effort to prove he was no hardened terrorist, they described Hamdan’s cooperation in the hunt for the al-Qaida chief following his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001.
    His Pentagon-appointed attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said in his closing argument that Hamdan had offered to provide the U.S. with ‘‘critical details’’ at a time ‘‘when it mattered most,’’ in late 2001. The lawyer was barred from providing details, however, because the information was part of secret testimony that was not disclosed in open court.
    Mizer said the U.S. never took advantage of Hamdan’s offer. ‘‘You know what happened, how we squandered that opportunity,’’ he told the jurors.
    In other testimony at the two-week trial, Hamdan’s former interrogators said he led them to al-Qaida safehouses in Afghanistan, provided information about the movement of key terrorists and even offered to testify against a suspected mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing.
    The judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, told the jurors that four of the six must find Hamdan guilty ‘‘beyond a reasonable doubt’’ to convict him.
    Even if they find him innocent, Hamdan may not be released. The military retains the right to hold ‘‘enemy combatants’’ considered a threat to the United States — even those cleared of charges by the tribunals.
    A guilty verdict would be followed immediately by a sentencing hearing at Guantanamo. The sentence would have to be approved by the Pentagon official who oversees the tribunal system, Susan Crawford, and the verdict would be reviewed automatically by a special military appeals court in Washington.
    The military has charged 21 of the roughly 265 men held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Military prosecutors say they plan trials for about 80 inmates.
    So far, only one Guantanamo inmate has been convicted. Australian David Hicks reached a plea agreement that sent him home to serve a nine-month prison sentence.

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