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Commander of Afghan Insurgency Pleads Guilty at Guantánamo Bay

GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – An Iraqi prisoner who commanded insurgents during the US war in Afghanistan pleaded guilty Monday to war crimes related to deadly attacks on Allied soldiers in 2003 and 2004, in a deal that could transfer him to custody from another country by 2024.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, now in his 60s, spent much of the day in hearings answering “Yes, Your Honor” to questions from military judge, Lieutenant Colonel. Mark F. Rosenowon a secret account of his activities in Afghanistan as a conspirator with Osama bin Laden and other top Qaida leaders between 1996 and 2003. The report contained more than 100 items.

He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison, much of which to serve in the custody of another country, under a plea deal that has not yet been made public.

He pleaded guilty to the traditional war crimes of assaulting protected property — a US military medevac helicopter that failed to shoot down insurgents who responded to him in Afghanistan in 2003 — and of treason and conspiracy in connection with insurgent bombings that killed at least three Allied troops, one each from Canada, Great Britain and Germany.

Those Allied soldiers were killed by car bombs or suicide bombers posing as civilians, the judge said. If Mr. Hadi had known about the plans in advance, he had a duty to stop them. If he had not had inside information, the judge said, Mr Hadi had a duty to punish the perpetrators.

But the plea deal still marked a drastic cut in the government’s charges against him. None of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty made him directly or indirectly responsible for some of the most serious charges made by military prosecutors when they accused him in 2014

From his case disappeared allegations that he was part of the sweeping Qaeda conspiracy to rid the Arabian Peninsula of non-Muslims. Nor was there any claim of responsibility or knowledge of the September 11 attacks, which gave rise to the establishment of Guantánamo Prison and the War Tribunal.

None of the charges held him responsible for the Taliban’s destruction of monumental Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in March 2001. Nor was he associated with the 2003 assassination of insurgents at a French worker for the United Nations Relief Agency.

Mr Hadi, who says his real name is Nashwan al-Tamir, was captured in Turkey in 2006 and taken to Guantanamo Bay the following year. Efforts to take him to court have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and his health. He has a degenerative disease of the spine that sometimes paralyzes him.

Plea talks in the case have begun this year under new Biden-era pressure to close Guantánamo Prison, which has an aging inmate population and limited capacity to provide healthcare without specialists and equipment.

Under Hadi’s plea deal, reached in May and refined over the weekend, a military jury will hear the evidence against him and be asked to choose within a margin of 25 to 30 years of incarceration, starting with his plea.

Once that’s done, the senior Pentagon official responsible for overseeing the war court will, under the deal, reduce the term to 10 years.

The agreement postpones sentencing for two years, so his lawyers hope there will be enough time to find a sympathetic nation to receive him and provide him with lifelong medical care. His spinal disease required five surgeries in less than a year at Guantánamo and has left him dependent on a wheelchair and walker – and requires more surgeries to deal with his periodic paralysis.

“He pleaded guilty to his role as a frontline commander in Afghanistan,” said his attorney, Susan Hensler, who is being compensated by the Pentagon. “He has been in custody for 16 years, including the six months he spent on a black CIA site. We hope the United States keeps its promise to transfer him as soon as possible for the medical care he so desperately needs.”

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