The court of appeal will hear the case of the Russian Taliban fighter

RICHMOND, Va. – A former Russian military officer who received a life sentence for leading a Taliban attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 was a soldier, not a criminal, and should be treated as a lawful combatant, his lawyer argued before a federal appeals court Tuesday.

But a Ministry of Justice, a lawyer, told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Irek Hamidullin, who led the attack on behalf of the Taliban and the allied terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network, was not entitled to the protection given to prisoners of war. He said Taliban members were excluded on the basis of a 2002 presidential directive.

The three judges peppered both sides with questions on how it should determine whether Hamidullin must be given rightful warrior status.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, repeatedly questioned Hamidullin the Attorney of the Federal Public defender Geremy Kamens, about his statement that persecution is Hamidullin in a civil court violated the “fundamental concept that soldiers are not criminals.”

Wilkinson said that by the time that Hamidullin led the attack in 2009, the Taliban was not recognized as a nation-state and instead thereof, was generally seen as “a bunch of looters.”

“Taliban fighters are not lawful combatants,” said Wilkinson.

Hamidullin, who was captured after he shot and injured, was the only survivor of around 30 insurgents. The coalition supported no victims.

Kamens argued that, because Hamidullin claimed lawful status of a combatant, he was entitled to protection as a prisoner of war until a military tribunal determines his status.

“It is absolutely clear that this person is a soldier,” Kamens said.

The court first heard arguments in December last year, but there will be a second hearing after one of the judges announced that he is stepping down to serve as Baltimore city solicitor.

The court has not indicated when it would rule.

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