Iraqi wants civilian attorney at Guantánamo war court to navigate Afghanistan, Iraq

An Iraqi prisoner at Guantánamo who is accused of commanding al-Qaida’s army after the Sept. 11 terror attacks wants a civilian lawyer to help him gather evidence in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan as an act of pragmatism, the captive’s U.S. Army lawyer said Monday.

An unofficial translation of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi’s request for a civilian lawyer during a June 18 hearing left spectators puzzled about his meaning after the 53-year-old man sought, in Arabic, assistance of a civilian lawyer “because of what's going on between Afghanistan and Iraq, and because it’s very destructive from your government.”

So his attorneys clarified, after consulting with the captive, that the Arabic-English translation was garbled. Hadi was talking about the challenges to uniformed U.S. military counsel to work inside Iraq and Afghanistan in trial preparation in his request to the judge, Navy Capt. J. Kirk Waits, for a civilian lawyer to work on his case, too.

“In court, Mr. Hadi was trying to say that a civilian lawyer would receive less resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan than a member of the military would,” his attorney, Army Lt. Col. Chris Callen said by email Monday. “Mr. Hadi is fine with the U.S. government paying the attorney's fees. The civilian attorney would be in addition to military counsel.”

Hadi was formally accused of a series of non-capital war crimes in a 33-minute arraignment at the war court compound at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that did not set the new pretrial hearing date amid uncertainty over his legal representation.

The charges include allegations that his troops killed or attacked foreign forces and civilians from eight nations in Afghanistan during the post-9/11 U.S.-coalition invasion and their targets included protected medical convoys.

Hadi gets his news from Russia Today broadcasts provided to his secret Camp 7 prison by the U.S. military, his lawyers say, and is aware of the surging violence in both countries. His wife and children live in his adopted homeland of Afghanistan; he’s an Arab from Mosul, Iraq, with family there, too.

Callen, his long-time Pentagon-appointed defense counsel, is leaving service in September as is a long-serving paralegal on his team, Navy Chief Jennifer Bailey, an attorney in civilian life.

Under the rules for Guantánamo military commissions, only U.S. citizens who can get a security clearance can practice law at the war court. Because his is not a death-penalty trial, the Pentagon won’t automatically hire him a civilian attorney. Guantánamo capital cases get a captive a “learned counsel,” generally a Pentagon-paid civilian lawyer with extensive experience in death-penalty cases.

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