RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- A jury has been selected in the case of a Russian military veteran charged with leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Irek Hamidullin faces 15 counts, including providing material support to terrorism and trying to destroy U.S. military aircraft. Opening statements are set for Friday morning in a trial that is expected to last five days.
The case is one of the latest examples of the Obama administration's effort to show it can use the criminal court system to deal with terror suspects -- a move criticized by some lawmakers who believe such cases should be handled by military tribunals. Hamidullin's case stands out, however.
"This is one of the first trials in recent memory where an enemy fighter has been tried in federal court," said Gary D. Solis, a former Marine who served as a military prosecutor and judge and now teaches the law of war at Georgetown University and George Washington University.
In 2006, Congress passed a law establishing military commissions to try enemy combatants, but Solis said that process has been slow and largely ineffective, with most of the handful of convictions being reversed on appeal.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who is presiding over Hamidullin's case, has remarked on its extraordinary nature at preliminary hearings and in court filings.
Hudson wrote in one opinion that Hamidullin's case "explores the outer perimeter of the concept of enemy combatants and its width in the present conflict."
In that July 13 opinion, Hudson rejected Hamidullin's claim that he is a prisoner of war and therefore not subject to prosecution in civilian court. Hudson said the Taliban, which has not been recognized as the government of Afghanistan since 2001, and affiliated organizations lack a clearly defined command structure and don't adhere to the laws and customs of war.
According to U.S. officials, Hamidullin is a Russian veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan who stayed in the country and joined the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated militant group. He allegedly led three groups of insurgents in a 2009 attack on Afghan border police in Khowst province. When U.S. helicopters responded to the attack, prosecutors say, the insurgents tried to fire at them with anti-aircraft weapons, which malfunctioned. The insurgents were virtually wiped out, while the coalition forces sustained no casualties.
The government says that when coalition forces later tried to conduct a battle damage assessment, Hamidullin fired at them with a machine gun. Hamidullin was wounded by return fire and was captured and held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan until last year, when he was brought to the U.S. for trial.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder chose not to seek the death penalty for a charge of using a weapon of mass destruction. Several of the charges are punishable by up to life in prison.
Associated Press Writer Larry O'Dell contributed to this report.