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Alleged al-Qaida war criminal recovering from surgery stalls Guantanamo hearing

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald | Published: September 24, 2018

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Tribune News Service) — An Iraqi captive held at Guantanamo and accused of commanding al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan after 9/11 failed to show up at a hearing Monday, stalling progress toward the war crimes trial following a health setback from his fifth spine surgery in less than a year.

The no-show presented a quandary for Marine Lt. Col. Michael Libretto, the new judge in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, 57. At the war court, cases have not gone forward without the prisoner coming to the first day of a hearing, and Libretto scheduled this hearing to make his first war court appearance.

Civilian defense attorney Adam Thurschwell said Hadi, who says his real name is Nashwan al Tamir, suffered “severe back spasms” on four days last week “when he’s tried to sit up for any length of time, requiring him to lie down immediately.” In two instances, Thurschwell said, sitting up impaired his breathing.

Last week, after the first episode, Thurschwell asked to postpone this week’s hearing, “arguing that it would be an enormous waste of time and resources while putting Nashwan’s health at serious risk.”

Pentagon officials were not immediately able to estimate the cost of this week’s hearings but in 2012 a court official said in a sworn affidavit that each war-court air shuttle to bring court personnel from the United States costs $90,000. No estimates were available on how much would have been saved by canceling the flights as well as not bringing down court stenographers, security officials and linguists on Sunday for a weeklong stay before Saturday’s return shuttle to Washington.

A prison doctor had medically cleared Hadi for a single move, to a half-day hearing. But the judge had not authorized a forced cell extraction.

In September 2017, as Hurricane Irma was headed toward Guantanamo, the Pentagon scrambled a neurosurgical team to the base to conduct emergency spine surgery on the Iraqi after he became incontinent in his cell. Hadi has had four follow-up operations, the last one in May.

His lawyers have said some of those procedures were to correct complications from his Navy base surgeries. They also said that Hadi, whom the CIA handed over to the U.S. military in 2007, suffered disc degeneration before his capture. But when he complained about the condition at Guantanamo, prison doctors treated it with painkillers and back ointment.

Based on a prison doctor’s health assessment, an earlier trial judge had canceled hearings for June and August. Monday, Libretto was awaiting a doctor’s opinion on why Hadi did not come to court.

“Can we not just let Nashwan get better?” asked his defense attorney, Air Force Maj. Yolanda Miller. “Every time we try to comply with the government’s schedule, the government’s request we eventually end up retarding his progress.”

Hadi is accused of commanding irregular Taliban and al-Qaida forces that targeted both troops and civilians with suicide bombings, roadside explosives devices and firing on a medical evacuation helicopter after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. His charge sheet describes these as classic war crimes, for which prosecutors seek a maximum sentence of life in prison, if he is convicted.

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