War Veterans and Family Testify at Al Qaeda Commander’s War Crimes Tribunal - The World News

War Veterans and Family Testify at Al Qaeda Commander’s War Crimes Tribunal

A U.S. Army veteran spoke about being left blind by a sniper’s bullet in wartime Afghanistan. A Florida father said he lost his best friend when a roadside charge killed his eldest son, a Green Beret. A former bomb squad member described two decades of trauma and anxiety from dismantling a car bomb that could have killed him.

The physical and emotional carnage of the early years of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was on display Friday as prosecutors presented their case to an 11-member U.S. military jury hearing evidence in the sentencing trial of a prisoner called Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.

Mr. Hadi, 63, sat silently alongside his American military and civilian lawyers, mostly with his head bowed, throughout the testimony. Next week he will address the jury about his own failing health and trauma from time in U.S. detention, starting with several months in C.I.A. custody after his capture in Turkey in 2006.

The case is an unusual one at the court, which has focused on terrorism cases, such as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In an 18-page written plea, Mr. Hadi admitted that he served as a commander of Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan who had committed classic war crimes, including using civilian cover for attacks such as turning a taxi into a car bomb.

Friday’s testimony cast a spotlight on the invasion by an international coalition assembled by President George W. Bush after Sept. 11 to hunt down Osama bin Laden and dismantle the Taliban for providing safe haven to Al Qaeda. It was America’s longest war and ended in a withdrawal of U.S. forces in August 2021, 10 months before Mr. Hadi pleaded guilty.

Sgt. Douglas Van Tassel, an active duty Canadian paratrooper, donned his uniform including his jump boots to testify to the loss of a compatriot, Cpl. Jamie B. Murphy, 26, who was killed in 2004 when a suicide bomber attacked their two-jeep convoy as they drove near Kabul.

Sergeant Van Tassel mopped tears from his eyes as he described how fear and the hardship of his continuing service had harmed his family. “I’m going to do it until I can’t do it anymore,” he said, declaring himself “afraid of not being busy” once he retires from service.

Under the rules of the court, victims cannot recommend a sentence to the jury of U.S. officers from the Army, Air Force and Marines who will decide a sentencing range of 25 to 30 years. Instead, the witnesses told their stories of loss.

To Maris Lebid, a detective on the Cape Coral, Fla., police force, her big brother Capt. Daniel W. Eggers, 28, was a leader and mentor to his six sisters and brothers by the time he and three other members of his Special Forces unit were killed by a land mine in Afghanistan in 2004.

She called him “the solid foundation in our family,” the big brother who “always knew the right thing to say, the right thing to do.”

Their father, Bill Eggers, a veteran of the Vietnam War, called his oldest son “my best friend and my son and my buddy,” a man he shared war stories with between his deployments to Afghanistan.

After learning of his death, Mr. Eggers said, “my PTSD just went right through the roof.” It is a condition, he said, that has caused cognitive difficulties and for which he receives treatment at a Veterans Affairs facility in Florida.

Tears ran down the face of retired Master Sgt. Robert Stout, a former National Guard soldier, who struggled to describe the trauma he has experienced since March 2004. His six-vehicle convoy had been shadowed by a suspicious taxi in Jalalabad that the soldier realized was probably an improvised car bomb.

It failed to explode, but Sergeant Stout, who in civilian life served as a bomb disposal expert with a state police unit, later discovered about 500 pounds of explosives packed inside and dismantled it. The episode has haunted him ever since and forced his early retirement from public service.

“I needed to get my calm back,” he said, describing himself in a state of constant hypervigilance. Even now, two decades later, he said, “I have a problem with crying over stupid stuff. It’s embarrassing as heck.”

Colin Rich, a retired sergeant major in the U.S. Army, was led to the witness stand by a prosecution team escort to describe how he had been shot through the head by an enemy bullet on Dec. 29, 2002. By then, Mr. Hadi “directed, organized, funded, supplied and oversaw Al Qaeda’s operations against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan,” according to his guilty plea.

In time, Sergeant Major Rich lost all but 20 percent of his vision. “My door-kicking days were over,” he said, describing how he had continued to serve in an administrative capacity until he was medically retired five years later.

“I haven’t driven in 20 years,” he said. “I have to have people run my errands. I stay at home most of the time, waiting for another seizure to happen.”

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