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  War on Terror

Bin Laden's driver charged with terror traffic offences

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, was formally charged at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay yesterday with conspiring to commit acts of terrorism by wantonly and flagrantly disobeying the rules of the road, including failing to stop at a red light, travelling at over 50 mph in a school zone, and parking on a double yellow line. A charge of failing to return a library book on time was earlier dropped owing to lack of evidence, as the Baghdad library in question had been inadvertently destroyed during the American bombing campaign to liberate Iraq last year.

Mr Hamdan was the first of four prisoners to be charged this week when they appear before a junta of five US military officers. He is accused of being Mr bin Laden's bodyguard and driver but is not actually accused of taking part in any specific acts of violence or operational planning.

Questioned about the charges that have been laid, Pentagon spokesman Elmer K. Ramsbottom III vigorously denied that they were the only ones that military officials consider could be made to stick or that Mr Hamdan was being made a scapegoat in order to justify the ongoing imprisonment of some 600 "enemy combatants" at the US military's infamous Guantanamo Bay resort.

Mr Hamdan, he said, had, through his actions, potentially supported the terrorism aims of Mr bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He noted that by failing to stop at a red light, Mr Hamdan could have been trying to cause an accident that might have killed a high profile visiting Western industrialist. Or, more seriously, he said, by parking on a double yellow line Mr Hamdan might have deliberately prevented paramedics from reaching President Bush in time to save him, if the latter had happened to be in a building there at the time and was choking on a pretzel.

The fiendish plots of the freedom-hating terrorists know no limits, he continued, and even what might appear to the uninformed to be innocuous activities could in fact be part of a much larger plot. Hence the charges against Mr Hamdan were serious, he contended, and would be punished accordingly.

Asked about that, he hastily noted that punishment would, of course, only be meted out when Mr Hamdan had been found guilty after a fair and impartial trial run entirely by his captors.

Mr Ramsbottom III added that there is no truth to a rumour that Mr bin Laden's former gardener is to be charged with burning garden rubbish in a restricted zone with a view to causing passing Western aircraft to crash because of poor visibility caused by smoke haze. He said that it was believed that the rumour had been started by the Kerry campaign team and that the Pentagon would be countering by releasing a photograph showing Mr Kerry shaking hands with Ho Chi Minh shortly before the latter's death in 1969, once someone had figured out how to use Photoshop.

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