Afghan Man Shouldn't Be Tried for Murder of 3 U.S. Soldiers in War U.S. Started: Lawyer

An Afghan man awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court on charges related to the killing of three American soldiers shouldn't be charged for deaths that occurred in a war the U.S. started, his lawyer said.

Haji Najibullah is accused of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for the deaths of the soldiers, but his lawyer said the charges were "preposterous," the Associated Press reported.

After Najibullah pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment against him, attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing and called the deaths of American soldiers an "immense tragedy."

"Nobody disputes that," Gombiner said.

He went on to say that it "is preposterous" that his client should be charged with murder by the U.S. justice system for the death of "American soldiers fighting in a war commenced by the United States."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Afghanistan Conflict
The attorney for an Afghan man being charged with murder in the deaths of three U.S. soldiers called the charges "preposterous." Above, Taliban fighters stand guard at a police station gate in the Ghasabha area in Qala-e-Now, Badghis province, on October 14, 2021. Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images

Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

But the new indictment accused him of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for a fatal ambush of the three service members in Afghanistan in 2008.

The attack killed Matthew L. Hilton, of Livonia, Michigan; Joseph A. McKay, of Brooklyn, New York; and Mark Palmateer, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Najibullah was also charged with playing a role in the downing of a U.S. military helicopter later in the same year.

Gombiner said evidence will show the allegations are not true.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla interrupted Gombiner, accusing him of having "gone off on a huge P.R. campaign."

She added: "I want you to talk to me and not the press."

The lawyer, however, said prosecutors were to blame for publicizing the charges through a news release "that was circulated around the world." The lawyer noted that he refused to comment when reporters asked him about the new charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denton told the judge that Gombiner was raising arguments "that have been raised and dismissed before, particularly as it relates to the Taliban."

Najibullah, 45, was extradited to the United States last year to face charges including hostage-taking, conspiracy and kidnapping.

The original indictment charged him with orchestrating the abduction of David Rohde, who then worked for The New York Times, and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, when they were on their way to interview a Taliban leader.

Both men made a dramatic escape from a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan's tribal areas more than seven months after their November 10, 2008, kidnapping. Their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was a third kidnapping victim. He escaped a few weeks after Ludin and Rohde.

American Soldier Funeral
Haji Najibullah, a former Taliban commander who's in U.S. custody, is accused of commanding a fatal ambush of Sgt. 1st Class Joseph A. McKay, Matthew L. Hilton and Mark Palmateer in Afghanistan in 2008. Above, friends and family watch a military honor guard carry McKay's casket during a funeral service at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York, on July 10, 2008. Mary Altaffer, File/AP Photo