RICHMOND, Va. — A Russian member of the Taliban made his first appearance in a federal court in Virginia on Tuesday, marking the first time a military detainee from Afghanistan has been brought to the U.S. for trial.
Irek Hamidullan’s appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak represents the Obama administration’s latest attempt to show that it can use the criminal court system to deal with terror suspects. His arraignment on 12 terrorism charges has been set for Friday morning.
U.S. officials say Hamidullan is a Russian veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who stayed in the country and joined the Taliban. He was captured in 2009 after an attack on Afghan border police and U.S. soldiers in Khost province. He had been held at the U.S. Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield before being brought to the U.S.
Among the charges Hamidullan faces in an indictment unsealed Tuesday are providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy and attempt to destroy an aircraft of the U.S. Armed Forces, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. The “mass destruction” charge carries a possible death sentence, but Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis said the attorney general is not seeking death because of insufficient aggravating factors. Several of the counts are punishable by up to life in prison.
Hamidullan, shackled and heavily guarded by federal agents, said little during his initial appearance. Federal public defender Robert Wagner and attorney Claire Cardwell were appointed to represent him.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan has said the decision to transfer the detainee was made in light of the agreement by the U.S. that it will turn over all prisons in Afghanistan to the Afghan government by 2015. As of last month there were 13 non-Afghan detainees at Parwan. The Obama administration is facing pressure to transfer those detainees before December, when the U.S.-led NATO combat mission ends.