From the NYT:
"A panel of six military officers convicted a former driver for Osama bin Laden of one of two war crimes charges on Wednesday but acquitted him of the other, completing the first military commission trial here and the first conducted by the United States since the aftermath of World War II. (...)
The panel rejected two specifications that would have supported a conviction for conspiracy. One asserted that Mr. Hamdan was part of the larger conspiracy with senior Qaeda leaders and shared responsibility for terror attacks including the 2001 terror attack.
The second conspiracy specification rejected by the panel asserted that Mr. Hamdan was part of a conspiracy to kill Americans in Afghanistan in 2001 with shoulder-fired missiles.
But the panel voted to convict Mr. Hamdan of five of eight specifications that made up the charge of providing material support for terrorism. The specifications included accusations that he drove Mr. bin Laden, served as his bodyguard, was a member of Al Qaeda and knew its goals."
So: after seven years, we have convicted Osama bin Laden's driver of, well, being his driver and bodyguard. That was totally worth setting up a brand new court system that throws out what have always been basic American legal standards.
Moreover, all that stripping away of rights got us nothing, since Hamdan had always admitted being bin Laden's driver and bodyguard. However, creating a whole new court system not only ensures a whole raft of appeals that would have been unnecessary had we used standard civilian or military courts, but also left open one huge problem: it's not clear that any of the things Hamdan was convicted of were actually crimes at the time he committed them. Marty Lederman:
"Under current U.S. domestic law, this alleged conduct would be a crime. Between 1996 and late 2001, however, such conduct was probably not criminal under U.S. domestic law. In any event, Hamdan was not tried for violating U.S. domestic law -- he was convicted for violating an alleged law of war.
This raises at least two huge legal questions. First, the charges themselves require that there have been an "armed conflict" during the period in question -- and the laws of war only permit trial of offenses committed within the period of an armed conflict. It's not clear which, if any, of Hamdan's alleged acts occurred after September 11, 2001 -- and it also is uncertain whether the conflict that triggers the laws of armed conflict commenced before 9/11/01, when al Qaeda engaged in other terrorist acts against the U.S. Four Justices in Hamdan thought the armed conflict did not begin until September 2001 (see note 31 of the Stevens opinion); but it remains an unresolved question.
Second, it is not clear that Hamdan's conduct of "material support" to terrorism (and, in Specification 2, to al Qaeda), in the form of of transportation and "body guard" services, was conduct that violated the laws of war in the period from 1996 to 2001. Judge Allred ruled (see page 2 here) that if such conduct was not a war crime at the relevant time, then Congress is barred by the Ex post Facto Clause from designating such conduct as a war crime after the fact. Were these forms of "material support" to terrorist acts -- or, even more broadly,to an organization that commits terrorist acts (Specification 2) -- a violation of the laws of war between 1996 and 2001? A very interesting and important question. See pages 3-6 of Judge Allred's opinion, in which he holds that even though there is no recognition of such a war crime in any international instruments, or U.S. field manuals, and even though the Congressional Research Service found no historical support for it, there is some evidence of similar "support" conduct being tried by military tribunals in the Civil War, and thus it was within Congress's broad authority under the Law of Nations Clause to determine that such conduct was a war crime when Hamdan acted. Whether that holding is correct will be a major issue on appeal."
So, in a nutshell: after seven years of legal wrangling, we have convicted someone who is by no stretch of the imagination a terrorist mastermind of driving bin Laden and being his bodyguard, acts which might not have been crimes when he committed them. And for this we tossed out significant chunks of our legal traditions. What a deal.