A former Russian army officer who defected to fight alongside Taliban-affiliated forces is now arguing he should never have been prosecuted at all.

Irek Hamidullin contends he deserves to be treated as a lawful combatant with prisoner of war status. A judge rejected those arguments before Hamidullin was convicted last year and given a life sentence.

A federal appeals court takes up the matter Dec. 9.

There's been only one criminal prosecution in the last 15 years in which a court considered whether a Taliban fighter enjoyed combatant immunity. Then, the judge ruled for the government.

The U.S. is among nations that distinguish between acts committed by soldiers during war and violent acts outside an international conflict.

The government and Hamidullin are at odds on what category he falls into.