(CN) – A military panel handed prosecutors a setback in the first U.S. military trial since World War II by convicting a former driver for Osama bin Laden of providing material support for terrorism, but acquitting him of a conspiracy charge. Salim Ahmed Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and charged with conspiracy and aiding terrorism through his ties to al-Qaida.
The split verdict means Hamdan faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
The panel of six military officers deliberated for eight hours over three days before clearing Hamdan of what some call the more serious charge. Prosecutors alleged that Hamdan joined in the conspiracy to perpetrate 9/11 and other major terrorist attacks by helping drive and protect bin Laden.
Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel, told The New York Times that he was encouraged by the verdict. “For a team that was expected to strike out at every pitch,” he said, “we at least hit a triple.”
The White House issued a statement supporting the military commission system as a “fair and appropriate legal process for prosecuting detainees alleged to have committed crimes against the United States or our interests.”
The verdict came after a closed two-week trial, during which prosecutors called 14 witnesses and based their claims on secret evidence.
“History and the world opinion will judge whether the government proved the system to be fair,” the defense said in a statement.