Accused terrorist in Iraq facing US charges

February 24, 2012 - 5:25 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military prosecutors have submitted charges, including murder and espionage, against a Lebanese Hezbollah commander allegedly responsible for killing five U.S. soldiers in Iraq, a Pentagon official said Friday.

The case against Ali Musa Daqduq is complicated by the fact that he is in Iraqi government custody, and it is unclear whether Baghdad authorities will permit his transfer to a U.S. military tribunal.

Prosecutors submitted charges against Daqduq last month, but they have yet to be approved by Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, chief prosecutor of the military commissions system that so far has dealt only with defendants held at Guantanamo Bay in connection with the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The New York Times in its Friday editions was first to report the Daqduq charges, which have not been officially announced by the Pentagon because they have not been approved by the chief prosecutor.

If Martins were to approve the charges, the matter would then go to retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald for a decision on whether to refer some, all or none of the charges for trial by a military tribunal.

"There are multiple charges against the accused, including murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, intentional infliction of serious bodily injury, attempted taking of hostages, perfidy, spying and terrorism," said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman. "The charges are merely accusations, and the accused is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Daqduq was captured in southern Iraq in March 2007, two months after a raid in the city of Karbala by insurgents wearing American-style uniforms resulted in the deaths of five American troops. In the U.S. charges against him, Daqduq is accused of planning and coordinating the raid.

Daqduq was the last prisoner held by American forces in Iraq. He was handed over to Iraqi authorities on Dec. 17 as the last U.S. troops departed the country. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Iraq might release him.

Under former President George W. Bush, U.S. military prosecutors had planned to charge Daqduq in a U.S. criminal court. But those plans were scrapped after President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and lawmakers began restricting his ability to bring terrorist suspects into the United States for trial.

Many Republicans had wanted Daqduq prosecuted before a military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Breasseale indicated this is unlikely.

"We have long understood that the transfer of Daqduq to Guantanamo is a non-starter for our Iraqi partners and would only prevent us from obtaining custody of him," the spokesman said. "In addition, the reality is that the continued existence of Guantanamo, not to mention any expansion of its population, would, for a variety of reasons, undermine our national security. That is why the president has ordered the facility to be closed, and that is why no additional detainees will be brought there."

Breasseale said he could not comment on whether the U.S. is actively seeking Daqduq's extradition from Iraq.

"We are working with Iraq to affect Daqduq's transfer to a U.S. military commission consistent with U.S. and Iraqi law," he said. "We are seeking the fastest possible way to bring him to justice."

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Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robertburnsAP