A Russian-born terrorist who attacked U.S. soldiers in 2009 and is now detained in Afghanistan will be brought to the United States and prosecuted in federal court, the Obama administration has told Congress.
According to a Washington Post story in Thursday’s paper about the announcement, the Taliban fighter, named Hamidullan, was involved in attacks that wounded or killed American service personnel in 2009 and then fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. If this trial takes place, it would mark a significant development in bringing to justice those few remaining non-Afghan high-value detainees we have in custody in Afghanistan.
As I wrote last year, the administration was considering bringing Hamidullan to the United States for a military commissions’ trial. In his May 23, 2013, National Defense University speech, President Obama announced he had ordered the Department of Defense to “designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions.” To date, not much progress has been made on that front.
We may hear from some in Congress who either support the move or object to it.
But if the administration did nothing, it is likely Hamidullan would have to be released soon after the new year as we transition from a combat role in Afghanistan. The administration does not want to repeat what happened in 2011, when the administration was pulling troops out of Iraq and wrestling with what to do with Ali Musa Daqduq.
Daqduq, a Lebanese national and Hezbollah commander, was responsible for slaughtering five U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2007, and we had him in custody in Iraq. As David Rivkin and I wrote in the Wall Street Journal at the time, “allowing him to go unpunished is both inexcusable and dangerous.” Yet that is exactly what the administration did. It let him go, and justice was not served.
It is welcome news the administration intends to bring Hamidullan to justice instead of just letting him go. No doubt the move will re-kindle the old federal-court-versus-military-commissions debate. But it looks like the administration may have learned its lesson from the Daqduq disaster.