By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A Dutch national born in Iraq pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in federal court yesterday, marking the start of the first U.S. criminal prosecution of an alleged Iraqi insurgent.
Wesam al-Delaema, 33, is charged with four counts of conspiracy and two other crimes for allegedly belonging to a group called "Mujaheddin From Fallujah," which constructed and deployed roadside bombs aimed at U.S. forces in Iraq. Delaema, who was born in Fallujah, traveled to Iraq in October 2003 and was shown making and discussing explosives on a videotape that was seized from his house in the Dutch city of Amersfoort in May 2005, authorities said.
Delaema, who was originally arrested and jailed by Dutch police, has said that he was kidnapped and forced to participate in the videotape, which was widely shown on Arabic television stations.
The prosecution of Delaema in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia follows nearly two years of negotiations between U.S. and Dutch authorities, which led to Delaema's extradition to the United States over the weekend.
The unusual extradition agreement would allow Delaema to return to the Netherlands to serve his prison sentence if he is convicted, Dutch and U.S. officials said. It also marks the first time that U.S. authorities have sought to prosecute an alleged Iraqi insurgent in U.S. criminal courts, rather than pursuing military charges or turning him over to the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts.
Victor Koppe, who served as Delaema's attorney in the Netherlands, said the arrangement guarantees that Delaema will not be designated an enemy combatant or tried by a U.S. military commission. Dutch courts also will be able to review and possibly modify the terms of any U.S. sentence once Delaema is returned home, Koppe and U.S. officials said.
Koppe said the conditions were necessary because the U.S. government no longer can be trusted to treat prisoners humanely. Two of the U.S. charges against Delaema carry possible life sentences.
"It's really that video that is the main and only evidence against him," Koppe said in a telephone interview yesterday. "He acknowledged that he could be seen on that video but that he was forced to do it because he was kidnapped."
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said it was highly unusual for the U.S. government to submit to the stringent conditions contained in the Delaema extradition agreement.
"I've never heard of a federal court exercising jurisdiction and then being subjected to a tribunal from another jurisdiction," Tobias said. "It's a strange way to proceed, but maybe the U.S. had to take what it could get from the Netherlands."
U.S. prosecutors contend in court papers that the videotape clearly shows Delaema bragging about how he and other insurgents hid bombs targeting American forces.
"This is not the first operation we carry out," Delaema says on the tape, according to prosecutors. "We have executed several operations and most of them were successful. . . . Their casualties have gone beyond your imagination."
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein, who heads the Justice Department's national security division, said in a statement that Delaema "will now face justice for his efforts in orchestrating and launching roadside bomb attacks against our men and women serving in Iraq."
Delaema made a brief appearance yesterday before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman. Prosecutors requested that hair and saliva samples be obtained from him to allow DNA identification.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.