An alleged al-Qaida commander recovering from five spine surgeries at Guantánamo made it to court Tuesday morning and lasted just 30 minutes in open session before suffering an episode of back spasms that prompted the military judge to abruptly recess and the military to take him away in an ambulance.
The ambulance carried former CIA prisoner Abd al Hadi al Iraqi to the detention center’s acute care unit after first a Navy corpsman then a prison psychiatrist, an Army major, examined and treated him in court — first administering Valium and then a second Percocet of the day.
The judge canceled hearings scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday but ordered them to to resume on Friday, a day before he and his team depart the base to make way for a pretrial hearing in the 9/11 case. A military neurosurgeon who had operated on Hadi was arriving on the remote base later in the day for a pre-scheduled appointment on Thursday, but the appointment was moved up.
After court, lead defense attorney Adam Thurschwell said the captive arrived at the court complex called Camp Justice in too much pain to concentrate on his conversations with his attorneys. Once the back spasms began, Thurschwell said, Hadi’s face was locked in a grimace for “over an hour” and his breathing was so impaired he could not initially swallow the opiates, which were crushed and mixed with water.
Thurschwell called the prosecution’s proposal to hold a hearing Thursday “after what happened to him in the courtroom today tantamount to court-sanctioned torture.” The judge subsequently postponed the next hearing until Friday.
Hadi, 57, was brought to court in a wheelchair and gingerly moved to a padded rehabilitation chair for his first encounter with his new judge, Marine Lt. Col. Michael Libretto. He had a back brace and repeatedly tried to relieve some stress on his spine by pushing himself by his arms up and down in the rehabilitation chair.
After Libretto called the court to order and took attendance Thurschwell repeatedly pressed the judge to let the captive describe his fragile health condition. Hadi, who says his true name is Nashwan al Tamir, is accused of commanding irregular al-Qaida and Taliban forces that committed alleged war crimes in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and could be imprisoned for life at Guantánamo if he is convicted by a military jury.
The case is in pretrial proceedings that have been mostly stalled since the Pentagon scrambled a neurosurgical medical team to conduct emergency lower back surgery on Hadi in September 2017. Hurricane Irma was headed to the Caribbean, and Hadi had become incontinent following years of complaints about a degenerative disc condition that predated his 2006 capture in Turkey.
The in-court medical drama Tuesday, watched by court observers through triple-pane soundproofed windows, unfolded as Thurschwell was questioning the new case judge on professional and personal relationships with military members associated with the case.
Thurschwell was asking Libretto about whether he had gone golfing with a previous defense counsel, Marine Lt. Col. Tom Jasper, when Hadi’s military lawyer, Air Force Maj. Yolanda Miller, interrupted and announced: “It appears that Mr. al Tamir is having a back spasm.” The judge abruptly called a recess, left the room and technicians cut the audio feed to the courtroom as the captive could be heard groaning.
It was a drama only those who actually sat in the spectators gallery could see.
The public watching from remote viewing sites in Maryland and Massachusetts got a live stream of the empty judge’s bench while in succession an officer serving as prison attorney ran inside and ordered guards to get the medic on site. The Navy corpsman arrived three minutes later and, with as many as eight Army guards hovering over the wheelchair watching, the medic examined Hadi, adjusted his rehab chair into a reclining position and then straightened it.
He was given Valium, then 35 minutes into the recess ahe was given a Percoset and an ambulance was called in to carry him out on a gurney, attorneys said.
Prosecutor Vaughn Spencer told the judge during a brief portion of an attorneys conference that was broadcast to remote sites that, at the recommendation of the Army psychiatrist, Hadi was “being moved to the DACU, not where he’s been in the past couple of months.” DACU is short for Detainee Acute Care Unit.
Hadi is accused of commanding anti-U.S. coalition forces who targeted both troops and civilians with suicide bombings and roadside explosives and firing on a medical evacuation helicopter after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He was first charged in June 2014 and is on his third judge and fourth iteration of defense attorneys.