By DENISE LAVOIE
AP Legal Affairs Writer
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A former Russian military officer who received a life sentence for leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2009 was a soldier, not a criminal, and should have been treated as a lawful combatant, his lawyer argued before a federal appeals court Tuesday.
But a Justice Department lawyer told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Irek Hamidullin, who led the attack on behalf of the Taliban and its allied terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network, was not entitled to protections given prisoners of war. He said Taliban members were excluded under a 2002 presidential directive.
The three-judge panel peppered both sides with questions about what should determine whether Hamidullin should have been given lawful-combatant status.
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III repeatedly questioned Hamidullin’s Lawyer, Federal Public Defender Geremy Kamens, about his argument that prosecuting Hamidullin in a civilian court violated the “fundamental concept that soldiers are not criminals.”
Wilkinson said that by the time Hamidullin led the attack in 2009, the Taliban was not recognized as a nation state and instead was widely viewed as “a bunch of marauders.”
“Taliban fighters are not lawful combatants,” Wilkinson said.
Hamidullin, who was captured after being shot and wounded, was the lone survivor among about 30 insurgents. The coalition forces sustained no casualties.
Kamens argued that because Hamidullin claimed lawful combatant status, he was entitled to protections as a prisoner of war until a military tribunal determined his status.
“It is absolutely clear that this individual is a soldier,” Kamens said.
The court first heard arguments last December, but scheduled a second hearing after one of the judges announced he was stepping down to serve as Baltimore’s city solicitor.
The court did not indicate when it would rule.
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