Salim Hamdan was sentenced on 7 August to five and a half years in prison at the first US military commission trial in Guantánamo Bay. The prosecution had asked for a sentence of not less than 30 years.
The day before, a panel of six US military officers had convicted Hamdan of “providing material support for terrorism” and acquitted him of “conspiracy”.
His sentence includes credit for the 61 months and eight days he has spent in detention at Guantánamo since he was first made eligible for trial in 2003. This was under the previous military commission system authorized by presidential order but subsequently ruled unlawful by the US Supreme Court in 2006.
In an ordinary justice system, this would mean that he would be released in less than five months time. On 5 August, however, the Pentagon suggested that Salim Hamdan would remain in indefinite detention as an “enemy combatant” regardless of the verdict.
Matt Pollard, legal adviser for Amnesty International, said Hamdan's conviction was based on a proceeding that "fundamentally failed to meet international fair trial standards."
"To impose any penalty based on it therefore could only aggravate the injustice of the trial and the other human rights violations during his many years of unlawful detention," he said.
The framework of laws and rules within which the military commissions operate is fundamentally at odds with international law, and has been criticized around the world. Nevertheless, it appears that the US authorities plan to press on, subjecting numerous more Guantánamo detainees to these unlawful procedures.
Amnesty International considers that the military commission system is fundamentally flawed and should be abandoned. The organization continues to campaign for any trials of Guantánamo detainees to be held in ordinary civilian courts in the USA, without resort to the death penalty, and for the Guantánamo detention facility to be shut down.