News & Current Affairs

August 17, 2008

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Fay brushed Cuba’s southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday and was expected to move ashore overnight before heading toward Florida as a likely hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds were 50 mph (80 kph), but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 66 miles per hour (110 kph) had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts out into the Caribbean.

In its latest advisory, the hurricane center said Fay was cruising parallel to the coast at 17 miles per hour (27 kph) about 135 miles (215 km) west-southwest of the Cuban city of Camaguey, and 285 miles (460 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida.

Fay, which killed at least five people when it struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, was crossing over warm waters — 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — and expected to strengthen before going ashore in Cuba’s central provinces, forecasters said.

The hurricane center predicted Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, would move slowly across Cuba overnight before emerging in the Florida Straits or Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

It said Fay could be near hurricane strength before striking Cuba and may be a hurricane, which means winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph), when it reaches Florida’s west coast.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba’s southern and northern coasts, including Havana, and in southern Florida.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred, officials said.

Rains up to 8 inches (20 cm) were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas were being evacuated, as were foreign tourists staying at coastal resorts in the storm’s path, they said.

In Guantanamo, the weather was not bad enough to stop the annual Carnival celebration, said Pedro Alvarez, 35, a resident of the coastal city that neighbors the controversial U.S. military detention center where the Bush administration holds more than 200 accused terrorists.

“Up to now there has been just a very light, off-and-on rainfall, so much so that last night the people continued celebrating Carnival,” he told Reuters.

FLORIDA EVACUATION

In the Florida Keys, 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba, officials on Sunday initiated a Keys-wide evacuation of visitors. Anyone planning to visit the area in the next few days needs to postpone their trip, they said.

In Florida’s upper Keys, recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic were heading north and leaving the string of islands at the state’s tip, according to police.

“Traffic is reported to be bumper to bumper, but is flowing smoothly, albeit slowly,” the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said.

At a briefing at the state’s emergency response center in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said the state had geared up for the storm. “Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant,” he said.

About 500 Florida National Guard troops have been deployed and some schools that were to open on Monday will be closed.

The hurricane center said it expected Fay to eventually hit Florida’s western coast, which is well east of the United States’ oil and natural production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co said on Saturday it was pulling 200 workers from offshore platforms as a precaution and on Sunday said it would take another 200 out.

In addition to the hurricane alert in Cuba, tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the Cayman Islands and southeastern Florida.

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August 8, 2008

Bin Laden driver given 66 months

Bin Laden driver given 66 months

Sketch of Salim Hamdan by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the US Military

This was the first US war crimes trial since World War II

Osama Bin Laden’s former driver has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison at the first US military trial in Guantanamo Bay.

Salim Hamdan was convicted on Wednesday of supporting terrorism, but acquitted of conspiracy to murder.

Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of not less than 30 years.

On time served Hamdan could be released in five months but the Pentagon has said he will still be retained as an “enemy combatant”.

The US has always argued it can detain such people indefinitely, as long as its so-called war on terror continues.

The Pentagon said Hamdan would serve his sentence and then be eligible for review.

Regret

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas at the trial says the sentence is a dramatic snub to the Bush administration and came after just one-and-a-half hours of deliberation.

The jury of six US military officers, not the judge, imposed the sentence under the tribunal rules.

“It is my duty as president [of the jury] to inform you that this military commission sentences you to be confined for 66 months,” a juror told Hamdan.

HAMDAN CHARGES
Conspiracy: Not guilty of two counts of conspiring with al-Qaeda to attack civilians, destroy property and commit murder
Providing support for terrorism: Guilty on five counts, including being the driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, a man he knew to be the leader of a terrorist group. Not guilty on three other counts

Our correspondent says Hamdan looked nervous as he walked in for sentencing but after hearing it, he told jurors: “I would like to apologise one more time to all the members and I would like to thank you for what you have done for me.”

The judge, Navy Capt Keith Allred, told Hamdan: “I hope the day comes when you return to your wife and your daughters and your country.”

Hamdan, who is aged about 40, smiled as he left court and said thank you to those in the room.

After the sentencing, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “He will serve out the rest of his sentence. At that time he will still be considered an enemy combatant.

“But he will be eligible for review by an Administrative Review Board.”

The boards decide annually on the threat posed by detainees and the possibility of their transfer or release.

The White House had earlier said the trial was “fair”.

The defence is still likely to go ahead with the appeal it announced on Wednesday.

Rights groups have condemned the tribunal system. Amnesty International said it was “fundamentally flawed” and should be abandoned.

‘Worked for wages’

In his earlier plea for leniency to the jury, Hamdan said in a prepared statement: “It’s true there are work opportunities in Yemen, but not at the level I needed after I got married and not to the level of ambitions that I had in my future.”

He said he regretted the loss of “innocent lives”.

Hamdan had admitted working for Bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001 for $200 (£99) a month, but said he worked for wages, not to wage war on the US.

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Among the dozens of other inmates due to be tried there in the coming months are men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

August 7, 2008

Bin Laden ex-driver found guilty

Bin Laden ex-driver found guilty

Sketch of Salim Hamdan by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the US Military

This was the first US war crimes trial since World War II

A US military jury at Guantanamo Bay has convicted Osama Bin Laden’s former driver of supporting terrorism.

The verdict on Salim Hamdan is the first to be delivered in a full war crimes trial at the US prison in Cuba.

The jury found Hamdan guilty of five of eight charges of supporting terrorism but acquitted him of two separate, more serious, charges of conspiracy.

A sentencing hearing is now under way. Hamdan, a Yemeni aged about 40, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The White House said the trial was fair and looked forward to more tribunals.

The defence team has said it plans to appeal, while rights groups have condemned the trial as unjust.

‘Vital role’

Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, was initially impassive when the verdict began to be read out. But the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, at the trial, said he later appeared to break down in tears.

HAMDAN CHARGES
Conspiracy:
Found not guilty on two counts of conspiring with al-Qaeda to attack civilians, destroy property and commit murder
Providing support for terrorism:
Found guilty on five counts, including being the driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, a man he knew to be the leader of a terrorist group
Found not guilty on three other counts

Our correspondent says the defence team’s appeal could go as far as the Supreme Court.

One of the defence lawyers, Michael Berrigan, said: “Is material support a war crime? The defence believes it is not. That issue will go forward on appeal.”

The jury of six military officers had deliberated for about eight hours over three days in the first US war crimes trial since World War II.

The prosecution had said Hamdan played a “vital role” in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. But defence lawyers said he was a low-level employee.

The BBC’s Adam Brookes in Washington says US President George W Bush will hope to use the conclusion of the first full trial as evidence that the Guantanamo Bay system does actually work.

In its first response, the White House said Hamdan had received a “fair trial”.

Spokesman Tony Fratto said: “The Military Commission system is a fair and appropriate legal process… We look forward to other cases moving forward to trial.”

However, defence lawyers had said they feared a guilty verdict was inevitable and that the system was geared to convict.

Rights group Amnesty International said the trial was “fundamentally flawed” and called for all the remaining military tribunals to be halted and for proceedings to be moved to civilian courts.

‘Guilt by association’

Hamdan had admitted working for Bin Laden in Afghanistan from 1997 to 2001 for $200 (£99) a month, but said he worked for wages, not to make war on the US.

Guantanamo Bay in Cuba

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay

The defence said the case was “guilt by association”.

But the prosecution said Hamdan was an “uncontrollably enthusiastic warrior” for al-Qaeda.

Prosecutor John Murphy had said: “He has wounded, and the people he has worked with have wounded, the world.”

About 270 suspects remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay.

Among the dozens of other inmates due to be tried there in the coming months are men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

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