The Yemeni man's lawyers plan to appeal the ruling.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
MIAMI -- A federal appeals court handed the Bush administration a key victory Friday in its war-against-terror strategy, ruling that the Pentagon could put Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver on trial for war crimes at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld President Bush's war powers to create a Military Commission to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, 35, of Yemen.
Moreover, Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote in a 22-page decision that, as chief executive and commander in chief, Bush could deny terrorism captives prisoner-of-war status as outlined by the Geneva Conventions.
The decision was the latest chapter in the three-year-old legal struggle over presidential powers to detain and sometimes put on trial so-called enemy combatants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the court validated a Bush administration distinction "between terrorists and those who legitimately wage war."
Gonzales added that the president's power to "try enemy combatants is a vital part of the global war on terror."
Hamdan's lawyers vowed to appeal. Both sides have said they expect the issue to ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The full 12-member Appeals Court could hear the case first.
It was unclear, however, whether the Defense Department would reconvene its so-called Military Commissions in the interim.
Retired Maj. Gen. John Altenburg Jr., commander of the process, froze all Guantanamo commissions in November -- after a federal judge found the process unconstitutional. Altenburg now can order the three-colonel commission to meet -- or can wait for the appeal by Hamdan's lawyers.
The Yemeni captive, who has a fourth-grade education, worked as a driver for the Al-Qaida mastermind from 1996 until his capture in 2001. But he denies joining Al-Qaida.
Hamdan's defense team protested Friday's decision, saying it "gives the president the raw authority to expand military tribunals without limit, threatening the system of international law and armed conflict worldwide."
"Today's ruling places absolute trust in the president, unchecked by the Constitution, statutes of Congress and long-standing treaties ratified by the Senate," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift and co-counsel Neal Katyal, a Georgetown University professor.
At issue is the Bush administration's decision to draw up a new formula for Military Commissions that borrows from both World War I and World War II experiences.