By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - An Iraqi prisoner identified as a senior al Qaeda commander has been charged in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal with firing on a medical evacuation helicopter and using unlawful tactics to wage war on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military made the charges against Abd al Hadi public in a statement as it prepared to start two weeks of pretrial hearings on Tuesday for other alleged al Qaeda operatives in the tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
The cases are plodding along despite President Barack Obama's renewed pledge last month to shut down the Guantanamo detention operation.
Prosecutors allege that Abd al Hadi funded and oversaw all of al Qaeda's operations against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan from March 2002 to 2004.
They say he directed his forces to use a variety of unlawful means, such as attacking civilians, detonating car bombs and suicide vests in civilian areas, and videotaping the resulting deaths for propaganda purposes.
The charge sheet links Hadi and his forces to numerous attacks on U.S. military targets, several of them deadly, and to a failed plot to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in the spring of 2002. It accuses him of paying a reward to the Taliban for assassinating a civilian United Nations worker in Afghanistan in 2003.
Hadi, who is 51 or 52, faces four specific charges alleging acts that violated international rules governing armed conflict. He could face life in prison if convicted by a tribunal of U.S. military officers at the Guantanamo base, where he has been held since 2007.
Specifically, Hadi is charged with "denying quarter," by ordering his forces to kill all U.S. and allied forces on the battlefield, including the wounded, without accepting surrender or taking prisoners.
He is charged with attacking protected property - namely by firing on a medical evacuation helicopter that was marked with a red cross and carrying a wounded U.S. military member from a battlefield in Afghanistan in September 2003.
Hadi is also charged with "perfidy," or carrying out attacks that rely on deceit, by packing civilian cars with explosives and detonating them next to military vehicles.
One such attack targeted a bus full of German military personnel in Afghanistan in 2003, while another targeted a convoy of British and Estonian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2004. The charge sheet said each attack killed at least one person but did not elaborate.
After leading al Qaeda's insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hadi went to Iraq at the behest of late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to perform a similar role there, the charge sheet said.
Pretrial hearings are set to resume on Tuesday in the death penalty case against prisoner Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of directing suicide bombers to ram a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole while the warship was fueling off Yemen in 2000. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the explosion.
Pretrial hearings are set next week in the case against five men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
That is also a death penalty case and the defendants include the alleged mastermind of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and David Brunnstrom)