A military judge has set a year-long timetable toward a February 2020 trial in Guantánamo’s case against an Iraqi man accused of commanding insurgents in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
Marine Lt. Col. Michael Libretto’s order to start jury selection on Feb. 19, 2020 in the case against Abd al Hadi al Iraqi represents the only trial date on the calendar in Guantánamo’s three contested war crimes trials. The 9/11 and USS Cole case trials are still mired in pretrial challenges, with attorneys in both capital cases seeking intervention in the system in federal, civilian courts.
Libretto set the date after the case’s lead prosecutor, Navy Cmdr. Douglas Short, declared in court Jan. 14 that an extra-large cell to house Hadi at the war court compound for upcoming March 4-8 hearings as well as the duration of his trial, “should be up and running” by March 3.
The cell, being prefabricated in the United States, has yet to arrive at the remote base.
Hadi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, is accused of commanding and paying al-Qaida or Taliban forces who attacked U.S. and allied troops, as well as civilian aid workers, in the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. Captured in Turkey in 2006, he got to Guantánamo in April 2007 and was charged in June 2014. He could face a life sentence if he’s convicted.
For at least 18 months he has been unable to sit in court for a full day as he suffers from a degenerative disc disease that the U.S. military has treated with five spine surgeries starting in September 2017. A case prosecutor announced in court earlier this month the cell will include a hospital bed and video screen to let Hadi monitor his trial from behind the court — and participate remotely by calling his defense lawyers inside via a secure phone line.
Libretto’s timetable dated Jan. 18, and released this week by the Pentagon, says lawyers will litigate evidence or witnesses they want made available for pretrial preparation in the next hearing, March 4-8.
In a separate order, the judge also reserved Guantánamo’s single functioning national security courtroom for at-most 33 days of hearings in 2019, including weekends: July 11-19, Aug. 19-28, Oct. 7-11 and Dec. 9-13 in addition to the five days in March. Libretto also disclosed plans to hold nine days of closed-court national security sessions — which the public can’t watch and Hadi cannot attend — in the Washington, D.C., area to prepare for the trial: Aug. 13-16 and Sept. 30-Oct. 4.
More on the case in our exclusive trial guide.