RICHMOND, Va. — A former Russian military officer serving a life sentence for leading a 2009 Taliban attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider its finding that he's not entitled to protections given to prisoners of war.
A lawyer for Irek Hamidullin filed a petition Tuesday seeking a rehearing by the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last month, a divided three-judge panel upheld his convictions.
Hamidullin's lawyer argued that he was a soldier, not a criminal, and was entitled to POW protections until a military tribunal determined his status. But the appeals court panel, in a 2-1 ruling, agreed with the Justice Department that Hamidullin was not entitled to lawful-combatant status.
In his petition seeking a rehearing, Hamidullin's lawyer, Federal Public Defender Geremy Kamens said Hamidullin was wrongly prosecuted "for acts taken in war that are wholly lawful under the laws of armed conflict."
Kamens urged the full court to rehear the case "because it involves questions of exceptional importance."
The U.S. is among nations that distinguish between acts committed by soldiers during war and violent acts outside an international conflict.
Hamidullin led the attack on behalf of the Taliban and an allied terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network. Prosecutors said U.S. forces killed approximately 20 of Hamidullin's fighters, while the coalition forces sustained no casualties.
The appeals court panel found that he was not entitled to lawful-combatant status because the attack took place in 2009 when the war in Afghanistan was no longer classified as an international armed conflict and had shifted to a conflict against unlawful Taliban insurgents.
Hamidullin was held in U.S. facilities in Afghanistan and later convicted in federal court in Virginia on charges including providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. His lawyer wants the 4th Circuit to overturn his convictions based on his argument that Hamidullin was a lawful combatant.
If the full 4th Circuit court agrees to a rehearing, 14 judges will hear arguments.