Salim Hamdan, from Yemen, is the first “enemy combatant” from the US “war on terror” to face a full-scale trial since the prison camp at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was opened in late 2001.
And with a federal judge rebuffing the last-ditch attempt by Hamdan's lawyers to halt the trial, the landmark case is now set to open Monday after preliminary hearings over the past week.
Hamdan, whose trial is expected to last two weeks, faces charges of “conspiracy” and “material support for terrorism,” and could receive life imprisonment if convicted.
Australian national David Hicks was to face a military trial in 2007 but pleaded guilty at a hearing before it began.
After being held without trial for five years, Hicks admitted to providing material support to terrorism as part of a deal that allowed him to return to his country where he served the remainder of his sentence.
The Pentagon is withholding the identities of the 13-member jury pool brought to Guantanamo over the weekend, but all are US military officers.
The administration of President George W. Bush set up the special military commissions in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The military commissions were invalidated in 2006 by the Supreme Court, only to be restored a few months later by the US Congress.
They have since been struck by a series of legal battles and hitches — including a June Supreme Court decision that granted foreign terror suspects captured abroad the right to challenge their detention in US courts — that
have pushed back the opening of Hamdan's lawsuit, and perhaps others to come.
The indictment against Hamdan, who is about 40 years old, alleges that he met bin Laden in the Afghan city of Kandahar in 1996 and “ultimately became a bodyguard and personal driver” for the Al-Qaeda leader.
It alleges that Hamdan received training in the use of rifles, handguns and machine guns in an Al-Qaeda camp and also “delivered weapons, ammunition or other supplies to Al-Qaeda members and associates.”
Hamdan was transferred in 2002 to Guantanamo — where he has been spent much of his detention in isolation — and ordered tried by a military tribunal.
His lawyers called for the suspension of the trial following the Supreme Court's June decision allowing the roughly 260 Guantanamo inmates to challenge their detention in civilian courts.
But last Thursday, Judge James Robertson of the Federal District Court in Washington rejected the motion for an injunction.
In a brief ruling, Robertson said it was not up to him to stop the trial even before it started, but that the defense team was free to file an appeal in a civilian federal court after a verdict is reached in the case.
Hamdan's lawyers have already announced they would appeal.
Hamdan's case will be an important test of the military commission system.
Of the 260 detainees currently in Guantanamo, only around 20 have been charged with a crime and the government plans to put only 60 to 80 of them on trial.
Several other Guantanamo inmates are also facing trial in Guantanamo including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti of Pakistani origin who is considered the mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States.