Guantánamo

Alleged al-Qaida commander, complaining of back pain, shuns court

In this Pentagon-approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi at his June 18, 2014 arraignment on on war crimes charges at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At left are members of his defense team at the time. All three defense team members have been replaced, twice, and this week he was represented by civilian Brent Rushforth and three new U.S. military lawyers.
In this Pentagon-approved sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi at his June 18, 2014 arraignment on on war crimes charges at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At left are members of his defense team at the time. All three defense team members have been replaced, twice, and this week he was represented by civilian Brent Rushforth and three new U.S. military lawyers. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Iraqi captive accused of commanding al-Qaida’s army in Afghanistan after 9/11 chose to stay away from his war-crimes hearing Monday, his lawyer said, because he has a painful, bulging disc in his lower back and has been using a wheelchair.

The no-show deprived family members of two men killed in Afghanistan in 2003 — one a soldier, the other a CIA contractor — of their first opportunity to see Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, the man who allegedly directed and paid insurgents to carry out the attacks that killed their loved ones.

But it could happen Tuesday when Hadi is expected in court for testimony from another Guantánamo captive, admitted al-Qaida terrorist Ahmed al Darbi of Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors have called Darbi to record a videotape that might be used at Hadi’s eventual trial, if the Trump administration makes good on an Obama administration deal to let the Saudi serve the rest of his prison sentence of up to 15 years in his homeland.

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Military doctors had cleared Hadi, 56, to make the trip across the U.S. Navy base from the secret Camp 7 prison to the Camp Justice compound, according to his lawyer, Navy Cmdr. Aimee Cooper. But the captive “chose to waive because he did not feel well,” she said.

For several days last week, Cooper said, Hadi was not “medically cleared” to meet with his lawyers. Instead, he was taken for a CT scan at the Navy base hospital where, Hadi related, doctors discovered a growing swelling in the disc between his L4 and L5 vertebrae from a decade-old degenerative disease.

Hadi’s judge, Marine Col. Peter Rubin, in contrast to the other war-court judges, allows the war-crime suspect to voluntarily waive attendance at the first day of his hearing. Monday, in a rare instance, Hadi exercised it. Cooper said that Hadi was finally cleared to meet his lawyers on Sunday and had been using a wheelchair because, when standing, his loses feeling in his feet and legs.

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U.S. Marine Corps Col. Peter S. Rubin at a training conference at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, in a Pentagon photo dated Oct. 31, 2013.

He has received steroid treatments, doesn’t want painkillers, and needs a consultation with an expert unavailable on the base, Cooper said.

Among those at the base this week to watch the hearings are relatives of two men who were killed in Afghanistan in 2003 in attacks that the Pentagon prosecutor claims were war crimes ordered by Hadi while he served as Osama bin Laden’s senior military commander.

The fallen American fighters were Army Pvt. Jerod Rhoton Dennis, 19, and CIA contractor William “Chief” Carlson, 43.

Dennis, of Oklahoma, was killed in an ambush on April 25, 2003, and his mother, brother, and sister came as guests of the prosecution to watch the proceedings.

In March, another al-Qaida member, Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, known as Spin Ghul, was convicted of participating in the attack that killed Dennis and Airman First Class Raymond Losano, 24, of Texas.

The Americans were on a military patrol from Firebase Shkin, in Afghanistan, the Department of Justice said — and Harun, whom Italy extradited to the U.S. for federal trial — “operated under Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, one of bin Laden’s deputies who was al Qaida’s top military commander in Afghanistan at that time.”

Hadi’s charge sheet alleges that the Iraqi “compensated his co-conspirators” for the attack that killed Dennis and Lozano. It did not specify what Hadi gave them.

The $12 million Expeditionary Legal Complex provided by the Pentagon, including the video of the judge from the seat used at trials by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and separately accused USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.

Also watching this week is Cheri Carlson whose husband, a 21-year Army Special Operations veteran, was killed in an Oct. 25, 2003 ambush in Afghanistan, according to the chief war-court prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins The CIA said at the time that Carlson and fellow CIA contractor Christopher Glenn Mueller were “tracking terrorists.”

Hadi’s charge sheet alleges that the Iraqi “funded” insurgents who fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms on a convoy whose riders Hadi thought were “important persons” or “diplomats.” No sum of money was cited.

“The bravery of these two men cannot be overstated,” Central Intelligence Agency Director George J. Tenet said in a May 2004 ceremony at the spy agency’s headquarters. “Chris and Chief put the lives of others ahead of their own. That is heroism defined.”

The CIA said Carlson, who lived in Southern Pines, North Carolina, “went by the nickname ‘Chief’ in deference to his heritage as a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.”

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