By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE Md. (Reuters) - An Iraqi man accused of being a senior member of al Qaeda was formally charged by the U.S. war crimes tribunal in Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday with conspiring to bomb Western forces in Afghanistan and killing civilians and U.S. soldiers.
Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi did not enter a plea during his arraignment on five counts that also included attacking a U.S. military medical helicopter. His attorneys said they wanted to file pretrial motions before entering a plea.
Court documents filed by prosecutors described Hadi al-Iraqi as one of al Qaeda's top military operatives.
Military prosecutors contend Hadi al-Iraqi served on al Qaeda’s senior advisory council, tried to acquire chemical weapons and issued orders to kill Americans and their allies. His orders also authorized al Qaeda fighters "to view civilians and medical personnel as acceptable targets," according to prosecutors.
Hadi al-Iraqi is accused of masterminding an April 25, 2003, attack on a U.S. military convoy at Shkin, Afghanistan, that killed two U.S. soldiers and injured numerous others. After another one of his attacks on Oct. 25, 2003, killed two more U.S. soldiers, Hadi al-Iraqi’s fighters shot at injured coalition soldiers, prosecutors said.
A roadside bomb set by Hadi al-Iraqi’s fighters killed four U.S. soldiers on May 29, 2004, at Qalat, Afghanistan, the court documents say. In a Nov. 16, 2003, attack, Hadi al-Iraqi is accused of paying Taliban fighters $200 to $300 to kill a civilian U.N. worker near Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Judge Captain J. Kirk Waits agreed to Hadi al-Iraqi's request to replace Army Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Callen as his defense counsel with a civilian attorney. Callen is scheduled to be released from active duty in September.
The arraignment was monitored by Reuters over closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Hadi al-Iraqi is the 12th person accused of terrorism to be charged before the Military Commission at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. He has been held there for seven years and the U.S. military classifies him as one of 16 high-value detainees.
Following the arraignment, Callen said Hadi al-Iraqi "has great concerns about the fairness of this process."
Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins defended prosecution by a military commission, saying, "The military commissions have rules of evidence that are better-suited to a battlefield."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)