An Iraqi prisoner accused of war crimes as commander of al-Qaida’s resistance of the U.S. military in Afghanistan in 2003 met for the first time Monday with the lawyer chosen by the Pentagon to defend him: A Marine lawyer who was part of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, in his 50s, sat in a white robe and turban separated from his new counsel, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Thomas Jasper, by a defense team translator. The alleged al-Qaida army commander didn’t object when the judge, Navy Capt. J. Kirk Waits, accepted Jasper’s credentials as lead defense lawyer, replacing an Army officer who had represented him at his June 18 arraignment.
Hadi told the judge that he still wanted a civilian attorney to also work on his case. To which the judge replied that it would be up to his U.S. military attorneys to help line up that lawyer — at no expense to the U.S. taxpayers.
At the war court, only men accused of capital crimes can get a Pentagon-paid civilian attorney. Hadi faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted of responsibility for a long string of attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004 that killed U.S., British, Canadian, German and Norwegian troops and a United Nations aid worker.
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Jasper was assigned to the case Aug. 6 but first met his client Monday morning. The Marine couldn’t see the former CIA prisoner until obtaining security clearances, which came through on the eve of the hearing.
Hadi was captured in Turkey in 2006 and held before Guantánamo by the CIA. He is accused of classic war crimes — targeting medical workers and civilians as well as foreign troops in Afghanistan — of denying quarter, attacking protected property, using treachery or perfidy.
He’s not charged with murder, but his charge sheet accuses him of helping the Taliban blow up the monumental Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in March 2001.
The case is in its embryonic pretrial stage. The lone piece of litigation Monday was a motion to adopt a “protective order” to govern the case, a superstructure that systematically shields from the public, and perhaps Hadi himself, the circumstances of his six-month stay with the CIA — how he was captured, where he was held, what the agents did to him.
The judge agreed with case prosecutor Mikeal Clayton that whatever entity classified the information controls who gets to see it on a “need to know” basis. Clayton argued that, when information is withheld, by law, it is up to the prosecutor and the judge to design a suitable substitution that protects the accused terrorist’s fair-trial interests.
A Hadi team attorney argued that, for some secrets, there is no suitable remedy short of halting the prosecution. “The remedy is for the commission to make the determination that if they're not willing to share that with the accused, or the counsel, this case shouldn’t proceed,” Air Force Maj. Ben Stirk said.
For this, the Pentagon mounted a four-day trip to Guantánamo from Andrews Air Force Base, the cost of which the Defense Department has yet to disclose.
It also, by judicial order, set up a video link to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for the parents of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.
Hadi is accused of running al-Qaida’s army in tandem with the Taliban to resist the U.S.-allied invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His 12-page charge sheet names no victims, but relays episodes in which U.S. and allied soldiers were killed by the enemy.
In one, Hadi allegedly “led and executed” a Sept. 29, 2003, attack on U.S. forces “at or near a U.S. military installation at or near Shkin, Afghanistan, killing one U.S. soldier” and injuring two others.
On that day, according to U.S. casualty reports, Private First Class Evan O’Neill, 19, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, a soldier for 15 months, was killed in a battle with “a large al-Qaida force.” U.S. forces used air power, artillery, mortar and direct fire “east of Shkin firebase.”
A Boston Globe account described the fallen infantryman as a third-generation soldier, the son of a Vietnam War veteran turned firefighter, who signed up for the Army as a high school junior on a delayed enlistment program.
Other victims who were described but not named in the charge sheet included “two U.S. persons” who were killed in the same area Oct. 25, 2003, allegedly by “Hadi’s co-conspirators” in a convoy attack.
No troops died that day, according to Pentagon casualty records, but two CIA employees did: William Carlson, 43, and Christopher Glenn Mueller, 32, assigned to CIA’s Directorate of Operations, died while tracking terrorists operating in the region, according to an announcement posted on the agency website in 2007.
There was no comment in court on whether Jasper’s U.S. Marine service was a source of tension for the accused terrorist — a former Iraqi Army noncommissioned officer who handled logistics and administrative functions in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. He then fled his country for Afghanistan between Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm that liberated the oil emirate.
While Hadi was allegedly waging war on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, according to Jasper’s website, the Marine was an operations officer with Combat Service Support Co. 151, which provided rations, water, fuel and ammunition in the 2003 Marine invasion of Iraq to topple Hussein. He then transitioned into a job as military lawyer for a battalion of Marines in Al Hillah, Iraq.
Hadi’s prior attorney, Army Lt. Col. Christopher Callen, has described Hadi as an Arab native of Mosul who still has family in Iraq. His views of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Hussein are not known.
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