Actor buys rights to Mahler's legal thriller

George Clooney is taking a taxi to the dark side.

The multi-tasking thesp has bought the rights to Jonathan Mahler’s legal thriller “The Challenge,” about the long campaign waged by U.S. Navy lawyer Charles Swift and Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal to ensure a fair trial for Salim Hamdan, the bodyguard and driver of Osama bin Laden.

Project will be developed through Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smoke House shingle. Deal is believed to be in the low-seven-figure range.

As with any Smoke House project, “The Challenge” remains a potential directing, writing and starring vehicle for Clooney.

Ross Katz will be an exec producer on the pic.

A spokesman for Clooney confirmed that no decision had been made yet on what exact role Clooney would take on the project, although some are already speculating that the role of idealistic lawyer Swift may prove a fit for the thesp.

Clooney had been tracking Mahler’s story for some time, and Smoke House execs met with the writer months before the book’s recent publication. While there had been interest from other potential buyers, Clooney’s persistence is believed to have played a key role in persuading Mahler to sign with Smoke House.

Hamdan was sentenced Aug. 7 by a panel of military officers at Guantanamo Bay to a prison term of 66 months, including time already served. The Yemeni-born convict was found guilty of material support for terrorism but cleared of the more serious charges of conspiracy to commit murder, seen by some analysts as a victory for retired naval officer Swift’s efforts.

Mahler’s book ends with the landmark 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the military tribunals ordered for Hamdan and other Guantanamo Bay detainees violated the Geneva Convention and the Uniform Code for Military Justice. While Mahler is planning to update the paperback edition of his book to include Hamdan’s trial verdict, it is unclear when Clooney’s bigscreen adaptation of “The Challenge” will end.

Project is the latest in a series of politically charged projects being developed by Smoke House.

Also in the pipeline are dramedy “Escape From Tehran,” recounting the CIA’s attempts to use a fake movie project to smuggle a handful of Americans out of Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis; “Men Who Stare at Goats,” based on Brit author Jon Ronson’s book about the U.S. Army’s 1st Earth Battalion, which was authorized to use paranormal powers; and “Our Brand Is Crisis,” an adaptation of Rachel Boynton’s doc about the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, when candidate Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada hired James Carville’s political consulting firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to help him win.

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