Military Times

Alleged al-Qaida leader to appear in court

An Iraqi man alleged to be a senior member of al-Qaida is scheduled to appear in court Monday at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he will face terrorism charges.

Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, 54, considered a "high value" detainee, is accused of ordering attacks that led to the deaths of at least eight U.S. service members.

Hadi is charged with a host of war crimes, including orchestrating numerous car bombings and suicide attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2003 and 2004. He faces possible life in prison.

In pretrial proceedings that begin Monday, defense attorneys and prosecutors will not argue about Hadi's innocence or guilt. Rather, the issue at hand will be the appropriateness of some of the individual charges and the ground rules for what evidence can be used in court.

For example, the defense has filed a motion to "suppress out-of-court statements of the accused due to violation of rights against self-incrimination." That may sound familiar to anyone who knows how the U.S. court system works. It's an argument based on the idea of Miranda rights: "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say or do can be used against you …"

The question at hand in this trial is whether accused terrorists are granted the same Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination that the Constitution affords all defendants charged in U.S. courts.

The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay are expressly different and apart from the rest of the U.S. judicial system. The commissions were set up in 2002 on order of former President George W. Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks, to try suspects accused of crimes in the war on terror.

The arguments over the next two weeks are part of the arduously slow path to a trial to eventually establish guilt or innocence and determine a proper punishment for Hadi. A trial date has yet to be set.

Though he is not charged with murder, the government alleges that fighters under Hadi's command were responsible for the deaths of U.S, British, Canadian, German and Norwegian troops as well as civilians. All told, he is allegedly responsible for at least 16 deaths.

The charges describe one particularly heinous incident on Sept. 29, 2009, when Hadi is accused of leading an attack on U.S. forces near Shkin, Afghanistan, that killed one U.S. soldier and injured two others. During the attack, Hadi's operatives allegedly fired rocket-propelled grenades at a military medical helicopter as it attempted to evacuate a wounded U.S. soldier. Hadi also is said to have ordered one of his men to videotape the attack so it could be used later in an al-Qaida propaganda film.

Hadi was captured in late 2006 and interrogated for over five months while in CIA custody, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's study of the CIA's detention and interrogation program, commonly referred to as the Torture Report. The report lists Hadi as the second-to-last person to remain in the CIA detention and interrogation program.

On April 27, 2007, the Defense Department announced that it had taken custody of Hadi and placed him under control of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay. At the time of his arrival at the detention camp, about 385 detainees were being held in Guantanamo.

Today, 116 detainees remain at the camp that President Obama promised to shut down on his first day in the White House six and a half years ago.

Hadi is one of seven detainees currently facing a military commission, and the only one among them who is not facing the death penalty.

Over the next two weeks, Military Times will have updates as the pretrial hearings continue.

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