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Qaeda Commander at Guantánamo Bay Sentenced for War Crimes

A U.S. military jury on Thursday ordered a former Qaeda commander to a serve a 30-year prison sentence for war crimes carried out by his insurgent forces in wartime Afghanistan in the early 2000s. The military judge excused the panel from the chamber and then announced that, under a plea agreement, the prisoner’s sentence would end in eight years.

The outcome was part of the arcane system called military commissions, which allows prisoners to reach plea deals with a senior official at the Pentagon who oversees the war court but requires the formality of a jury sentencing hearing anyway.

In handing down the maximum sentence, the jury of 11 officers rejected arguments by defense lawyers for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi that he deserved leniency, if not clemency, for his early humiliations in C.I.A. custody, subsequent cooperation with U.S. investigators and failing health.

Mr. Hadi, 63, was aware of the deal that reduced his sentence to 10 years, starting with his guilty plea in June 2022. It was unclear whether victims of attacks by Mr. Hadi’s forces and their family members had been told. None of the five people who testified last week about their loss commented as they streamed out of the spectators’ gallery on Thursday morning following an at-times emotional two-week sentencing trial.

The prisoner also did not appear to react when the jury foreman, a Marine colonel, announced the harshest of possible sentences. Mr. Hadi, who is disabled by a paralyzing spine disease and a series of surgeries at Guantánamo, sat in court in a padded therapeutic chair, listening through a headset providing Arabic translation.

His case was an unusual one at the court, which was created to prosecute terrorism cases as war crimes aftermath the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. While prosecutors cast Mr. Hadi as a member of the Qaeda inner circle before those attacks, there was no suggestion in his plea agreement that he knew about the plot beforehand.

Instead, he admitted to being the commander of insurgent forces who unlawfully used the cover of civilians in attacks that killed 17 U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, for example having a fighter pose as an ordinary driver in a taxi cab laden with explosives.

He also admitted to being a Qaeda liaison to the Taliban before the Sept. 11 attacks, and to providing some of his forces to help blow up monumental Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in March 2001.

The prisoner, who says his true name is Nashwan al-Tamir, was captured in Turkey in 2006. By law, he was not entitled to credit for the 15 years and eight months he had spent in U.S. detention before his 2022 guilty plea. If he were to be released, in June 2032, under the deal, he would have been held for more than 25 years as a prisoner of the United States.

But Mr. Hadi’s future is uncertain. War court prosecutors have argued that a prisoner may be held at Guantánamo even after his sentence ends as long as the war against terrorism continues. Alternatively, under the deal, the United States could transfer him to the custody of a partner nation, if one can be found that is capable of providing specialized health care and agrees to monitor his activities.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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