WASHINGTON – A Marine judge presiding over a war crimes trial in Guantánamo Bay resigned Thursday because he was offered an FBI scholarship, the latest staff change in what has become a revolving door in court.

Lt. Col. Michael D. Zimmerman was the fourth judge to preside over the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, 61, who was arrested in 2014. Mr. Hadi is accused of commanding Taliban and Qaeda fighters who committed war crimes by targeting troops and civilians with suicide bombings and roadside explosive devices and firing at medical evacuation helicopters in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

Colonel Zimmerman’s departure illustrates a key issue that plagued the hybrid military-civilian tribunal established by President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Unlike federal judges, who are appointed for life, military judges serve usually for a few years in military commissions, then move on to other legal functions or retire, creating delays and disrupting business continuity.

The 9/11 trial had four judges sitting at Guantanamo in nearly a decade, and three military judges handled cases administratively remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. The Saudi prisoner accused of plotting the 2000 suicide bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole has had four judges in a decade. The case of Qaeda courier Majid Khan involved four judges, from the guilty plea to the jury’s sentence.

The rotating nature of the military commission’s judiciary has also created conflicts of interest in cases where judges or their staff have secretly sought post-service positions at the Justice Department, which sends prosecutors and officials. Guantánamo FBI agents. In the momentous USS Cole case, an appeals court overturned two years of work by an Air Force judge who hid his search for civilian employment as a court judge in the immigration while sitting in the case.

Colonel Zimmerman’s case is different. He participates in the FBI scholarship for one year as part of a continuing education program that sends Marines on active duty to war colleges, private universities, and government scholarships for career enhancement.

The colonel wrote in a 10-page decision, released with unusual haste by the Pentagon, that he had ranked the FBI program as his first-choice scholarship in an online application on Nov.6.

He learned last week that he had been chosen for this, he said, and suspended all work on the Guantanamo file while he considered his options.

Colonel Zimmerman also said he has the prerogative to reject the scholarship, which begins in the summer, and stay on the case.

Instead, he said he chose to drop the case because “under all the circumstances, the fact that the FBI is likely to play a significant role in this case raises the possibility that an average citizen may, knowing all the facts, reasonably question my impartiality.

The colonel also canceled the next hearing in the case, scheduled for Jan. 4-7, which was to deal, in part, with a possible review of the rulings of a previous judge who had sought employment at the Justice Department while presiding over the case but had not disclosed it.

Defense attorneys in the case on Monday called on Colonel Zimmerman to resign and overturn rulings he had made since his assignment to the case in September 2020. He denied that part of the claim, saying that he would still be paid by the Marine Corps while on assignment. to “any outside agency” and did not seek employment with the FBI

In 2014, when Mr. Hadi was arraigned, the case was to be one of Guantánamo’s simpler cases on the battlefield and to be tried faster than the joint death sentence trial of five men accused of ‘plotting the September 11 attacks. This case has been mired in pre-trial proceedings for almost a decade.

For starters, this is a non-capital pursuit, which means Mr. Hadi’s defense team, who say his real name is Nashwan al-Tamir, was entitled to fewer resources and possibly unless there is evidence. In addition, the CIA held him from his capture in Turkey in 2006 until his transfer to Guantánamo Bay in April 2007, a shorter period in solitary confinement than most of the prison’s other high-value inmates.

But the case still does not have a trial date and is in the process of pre-trial processing, in part due to health concerns. All public hearings have been postponed for the first 500 or so days of the pandemic. Colonel Zimmerman chaired some confidential sessions remotely during this time, and he presided over his first public hearing at Guantánamo Bay in July.

Prior to that, the prisoner had undergone a series of emergency surgeries in less than a year, starting in 2017, after guards found him incontinent and suffering from paralysis in his cell. The Pentagon dispatched a neurosurgical team to the base ahead of Hurricane Irma this summer for the first of five spine surgeries in nine months.

The prosecution shed light on the challenges of providing complex medical care to aging inmates at the prison.

Congress prohibits the transfer of detainees to the United States for health care or any other reason, so specialists and surgical equipment have been repeatedly airlifted to the base. Defense attorneys discovered an email from a Guantanamo doctor in October 2017 recommending that one of Mr. Hadi’s operations had failed and that he should be operated on at a Navy hospital in the United States. .

Since the surgeries, Mr. Hadi has used a wheelchair, walker, and hospital bed in court. In 2019, the Department of Defense dispatched a giant wheelchair-accessible holding cell to the courtroom, Camp Justice, so he could spend nights there rather than risk suffering on a daily commute. bumpy from prison.

Lawyers reported this year that Mr. Hadi suffered from paralysis in his prison cell and that he was being treated by other former CIA prisoners.