Tale of bin Laden's driver to go Hollywood

Carol Rosenberg
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba - It's true that a production company owned by Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney optioned the story of Osama bin Laden's driver.

Not quite true are tabloid reports that Clooney is reserving for himself the role of retired Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Swift, the former Navy JAG officer who championed the case of driver Salim Hamdan from the prison camps to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hollywood publicist Stan Rosenfield told The Miami Herald by telephone Tuesday that Grant Heslov, who wrote ``Good Night, and Good Luck'' with Clooney, optioned a recently released book on the Hamdan case by New York writer Jonathan Mahler.

Heslov and Clooney are partners in the Smoke House production company.

"There's been no decision on casting, directing, or anything of that nature," said Rosenfield, Clooney's publicist.

"They do intend to develop it as a motion picture," Rosenfield said, but not necessarily any time soon. "This is a long process. Sometimes it takes 10 years."

Hamdan, 40, is the lone war court convict at Guantanamo.

A military jury convicted him of providing material support for terrorism last week and sentenced him to time served plus less than five months, meaning he could be eligible for release at New Year's.

Under Bush administration policy, Hamdan can also be held at Guantanamo Bay Navy Base indefinitely as an "enemy combatant" - as long as there is a war on terrorism and Defense Department officials independently deem him too dangerous to go home to his native Yemen.

The full title of the Mahler book is ``The Challenge: Hamdan v Rumsfeld and the Fight over Presidential Power.''

It tells the tale of the civilian and military lawyers who took the case of the driver from Yemen to the high court, and eventually sunk the White House's first draft of a plan to try Guantanamo detainees by military commission.

Hamdan had maintained his innocence from his very first meeting behind the razor wire in Guantanamo with Pentagon-appointee Swift, in 2004. He said he took the job of driving bin Laden in Afghanistan for the money - $200 a month - and at his trial apologized to the six U.S. military jurors for any pain his work had caused.

The jury acquitted the father of two with a fourth-grade education of a second charge of conspiracy, seeking to hold him responsible for a worldwide string of al-Qaida terrorism.

Rosenfield declined to say how much the company paid for the movie rights.

Mahler likewise declined to comment on the details.

"I'm thrilled that the book is in the hands of such quality filmmakers," he said by e-mail from New York, "and have no doubt that they're going to do justice to this extraordinary story."

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