National Security

Lawyer: Accused al-Qaida commander undergoes 5th emergency spine surgery at Guantánamo

The base Navy hospital at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on March 29, 2009.
The base Navy hospital at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on March 29, 2009. MIAMI HERALD

A Guantánamo detainee awaiting a war-crimes trial as an alleged al-Qaida commander in post 9/11 Afghanistan has undergone his fifth emergency spine surgery at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba, his lawyer said Thursday.

The military declined to discuss the condition of the prisoner known as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, citing "patient confidentiality and privacy." His Pentagon-paid defense lawyers, who call their client by his real name, Nashwan al Tamir, say they can't find out how he's doing either.

Hadi attorney Adam Thurschwell disclosed the surgery to McClatchy. "After nine months and five surgeries of a rolling health crisis, the government still waits to operate until existing serious health problems turn into emergencies and Nashwan is on the doorstep of paralysis."

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Hadi, in his 50s, is accused of commanding Taliban and other irregular forces that carried out war crimes such as targeting civilians and shooting at a U.S. military medevac helicopter in Afghanistan after U.S. and allied forces invaded in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He got to Guantánamo in April 2007, after 170 days in secret CIA custody, with a history of degenerative disc disease, according to his attorneys. He had for years complained of chronic back pain, according to medical records, and was at times treated with Bengay lotion.

Court filings show he underwent four surgeries since early September when, as a hurricane was headed toward the base, the Pentagon scrambled a neurosurgery team to stabilize his lower back. Three more surgeries followed, one stabilizing his upper back, another after doctors discovered a blood clot, and the most recent to stabilize screws in his neck.

Thurschwell complained that Hadi's Pentagon-based legal team learned about the latest surgery "through a court filing" and could get no further details. "The government has demonstrated again that its priority is covering up its own grossly inadequate medical care, not Nashwan’s health.”

At the Pentagon's U.S. Southern Command, Army Col. Amanda Azuibuike confirmed on Thursday that surgery "took place this past week. As a matter of policy, healthcare was provided with the consent of the detainee." Southcom has oversight of the Guantánamo Detention Center with a staff of 1,700 troops and civilians and 40 war-on-terror inmates.

It was too soon to know Thursday whether doctors will clear the former Iraqi soldier for his next war court hearing. It is scheduled for June 25 at Guantánamo's Camp Justice, after Ramadan. On the occasions that Hadi was cleared, he came to court in a wheelchair and relied on a walker to move to a rehabilitation chair for half-day hearings in consideration of his condition.

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