WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the conviction of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who served a prison term for material support for terrorism. In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court said that material support for terrorism was not an international-law war crime at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity.
Hamdan was sentenced to 5½ years, given credit for time served, and is back home in Yemen, reportedly working as a taxi driver.
‘‘If the government wanted to charge Hamdan with aiding and abetting terrorism or some other war crime that was sufficiently rooted in the international law of war at the time of Hamdan’s conduct, it should have done so,’’ wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The war crime for which Hamdan was convicted was specified in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
‘‘The government suggests that at the time of Hamdan’s conduct from 1996 to 2001, material support for terrorism violated the law of war referenced’’ in US law, said Kavanaugh, but ‘‘we conclude otherwise.’’
To date, the cases against seven Guantanamo Bay prisoners under the military commission system in place at Guantanamo Bay military base have involved material support for terrorism. In five of the cases, those charged pleaded guilty. Hamdan went to trial, as did Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who helped Al Qaeda produce propaganda and handled media relations for bin Laden. Bahlul was convicted in November 2008 and is serving a life sentence at Guantanamo.