Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq is a Lebanese jihadi who was captured and held in Iraq after a 2007 attack in Karbala and the killings of five American troops, four of whom were captured, tortured, and executed. As such, Daqduq is considered a “top threat to American troops in the Middle East”, and the US has requested his extradition from Iraq.
Ali Mussa Daqduq
Daqduq was a star member of Hezbollah in Lebanon, rising quickly through the ranks and eventually responsible for the personal security of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrullah. He was later sent to Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, to train Iraqi Shiite “special groups” of 20 to 60 in Hezbollah-style tactics and structure, as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – al Quds [Jerusalem] Force. From there he went to Iraq on at least four occasions to monitor and mentor the groups fighting the Iraqi government and the Americans through the IRGC-QF group Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) lead by Qais al-Khazali. On the last occasion in January 2007, Daqduq orchestrated the infiltration and attack on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center during a meeting between US and Iraqi officials, which resulted in the deaths of the five Americans and wounding of three others. Evidence found at the site led to the capture of Khazali, his brother Laith, and Daqduq by US forces by the following March.
When captured, Daqduq had numerous documents and a journal that showed his active participation in AAH and other extremist groups, and he subsequently freely confessed to the murders of the five US troops while in US custody.
In March 2009, negotiations began between the Iraqi government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and AAH with an aim to bring the group into the internal Iraqi political process. The discussions included a release of hostages under AAH control in exchange for AAH leaders then in US custody. Within the next months, both Khazali brothers were transferred by the Americans to the Iraqis, and subsequently released by January 2010, leaving only Daqduq. Shortly thereafter, news reports from Lebanon indicate that a delegation of Hezbollah met with Iraqi officials to discuss the release of Daqduq.
Having seen the Khazali brothers released, a group of twenty-one senators drafted a letter to the Obama administration urging it to transfer Daqduq to Guantánamo or another third-country ally with US detention facilities before 31 December 2011, before the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement took effect.
Failure to transfer Daqduq to Guantanamo Bay or another American military-controlled detention facility outside the United States before December 31st will result in his transfer to Iraqi authorities, potential release to Iran and eventual return to the battlefield. Daqduq's Iranian paymasters would like nothing more than to see him transferred to Iraqi custody where they could effectively pressure for his escape or release. We truly hope you will not let that happen.
But before the letter could be completed and sent, the US turned Daqduq over to the Iraqis on 16 December. Charges against Daqduq were not preferred by US military prosecutors until after his transfer to Iraqi custody. But the chance for our prosecution has been blocked by Iraq.
The subsequent trial for Daqduq by the Iraqi courts ruled that the evidence against him, including his confession, was inadmissible since it was obtained by US forces and not an Iraqi investigating judge, in accordance with Iraqi law. Daqduq claimed at trial that he had nothing to do with the crimes, and he was acquitted for lack of evidence in June. An appeal by US sources, including calls from Vice President Joe Biden to al-Maliki, to at least extradite him to US custody for prosecution here, have been useless. The case was reviewed on appeal by the US government, but the judgment of 30 July yielded the same result, from the three-judge Iraqi panel:
It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case. Therefore, the court decided to reject the request to hand over the Lebanese defendant Ali Mussa Daqduq to the U.S. judiciary authorities, and to release him immediately.
The Obama administration has scrambled to put a better face on the decision, according to an internal National Security Council talking points memo:
Daqduq should be held accountable for his crimes. Period. While we strongly oppose his acquittal, protections for the accused are built into all judicial systems, including our own. We transferred Daqduq to Iraqi custody out of respect for, and obligation to, the rule of law in Iraq, and while we disagree with this decision, we respect the independence of the Iraqi judiciary. We will continue to work closely with the Iraqi government to explore all legal options to pursue justice in this case.
The memo goes on to blow smoke by praising the Iraqis for handling the case, and trying to show that they are not beholden to the Iranians:
Our Iraqi partners worked to ensure that he was brought to trial and that the strongest case possible was brought against him, despite Iranian pressure for his immediate release without trial. Iraq has already kept Daqduq in custody for more than four months [four whole months!], despite predictions by many that he would be released far earlier.
Why wasn’t Daqduq, being such an important prisoner, sent to Guantánamo earlier, particularly when we saw how easily al-Maliki rolled over on the Khazali brothers? Remember that the very first public directive of Obama upon taking office (along with the famous quote of “I won”) was that Guantánamo would be closed, because of the Left’s declaration that it was their bête noire, what they claimed was a notorious den of torture and a rallying point to recruit
terrorists ‘militants’ to the cause of Jihad against America (without explaining where all those militants came from beforehand). The US could have retained Daqduq due to his notoriety, particularly after we saw how the repatriation process in Iraq was going, but that would require an acknowledgement by the administration that Guantánamo served its purpose. Alana Goodman of Commentary put it clearly:
The Obama administration would argue that this isn’t their fault, that the Status of Forces Agreement required them to hand Daqduq over to the Iraqis when they pulled out. But that’s a cop out. The administration could have informed the Iraqis that, with all due respect, some prisoners are so reprehensible that they are simply not up for negotiation. They could have brought Daqduq to justice when they had the chance. Instead, they rolled the dice on the Iraqi court system, and lost – and the world may be less safe now because of it.
The response from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) was more direct:
The Administration had years to transfer Daqduq to our detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, but because the President seemed to lack the political will to do so – I think because of campaign promises he improvidently made – one of the most dangerous, reprehensible terrorists ever in our custody will likely be allowed to go free. We should never have been in this position.
I and others saw this coming and we pleaded with the Administration not to allow it to happen. Sadly, our warnings fell on deaf ears and, sadly, we were proven correct. …
This policy cannot be defended. It has to end. So I urge the President and his team to act forcefully now. It may not be too late. With strong action we may be able to ensure that Daqduq is not released, that he is able to be tried for the murders he committed and the American soldiers he killed.
Daqduq’s lawyer, Abdul Mahdi al-Mitairi, states that Daqduq is still under house arrest in the Green Zone of Baghdad, even though the decision by the two courts should result in an immediate release:
The political pressure from the American side has prevented Daqduq’s release. He has not been released yet because the Iraqi government seeks U.S. support and it doesn’t want to embarrass Obama ahead of the elections.
A spokesman for the Iraqi Supreme Court, though, states that the ruling is definitive and final.
(H/T to Elizabeth O'Bagy, Stephen Wicken, and Ramzy Mardini at the Institute for the Study of War)