Iraqi man charged with war crimes scolded for dropping lawyers

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 7:11 PM

By Lacey Ann Johnson

FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - An Iraqi man accused of being an al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan was lectured by a military judge for firing his defense attorneys on Tuesday, a move that will further postpone his trial at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. 

The suspect, Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi, is charged with conspiring to bomb Western forces in Afghanistan and killing civilians and U.S. soldiers. He faces the possibility of life in prison on the charges. 

Military commission Judge Navy Captain J. Kirk Waits told Hadi al-Iraqi he didn't have "any good cause" for dismissing his military lawyers, but added: "I'm basically giving Hadi a free pass to fire his counsel, one time. It can't become something that can be done lightly, on a whim." 

"Just because you disagree or don't like rulings of the commission is not good cause for excusal of your counsel," he said, addressing Hadi al-Iraqi directly. 

Court proceedings were suspended indefinitely on Tuesday, pending security clearance approval for a new military defense attorney, Waits said. Hadi al-Iraqi said he would prefer a civilian lawyer but does not have the funds to obtain one. 

Hadi al-Iraqi said he spent a long time thinking about his decision to replace his attorneys and deflected blame for the delays in the case to the military justice system.

"I stayed here for a term of 6 years and 7 months without any trial," said Hadi al-Iraqi, who appeared in court with a long gray beard and clad in a white turban and robe.

"First the charges were stated to me, and then they were changed," he said through an interpreter. "Then my meetings with my defense were spied on."

Prosecutors said he led assaults against U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004 and an attack on a U.S. military medical helicopter. The Pentagon also accused him of plots to assassinate Pakistan's then-president, Pervez Musharraf.

He was captured in 2007 and is designated a "high-value detainee" at Guantanamo Bay.

The hearing was monitored by closed circuit television at a media center at Fort Meade, Maryland outside of Washington.

(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Andrew Hay)