With Gitmo’s days numbered, confusion surrounds Omar Khadr case
GUANTANAMO NAVAL BASE, Cuba — More than six years after a teenaged Omar Khadr arrived on this isolated patch of Cuba accused of killing an American soldier, confusion surrounds the war-crimes case against the Canadian prisoner.
He’s being held at the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Khadr is scheduled to appear Monday before a widely maligned military commission, which is expected to once again arraign him anew on war crimes.
That’s expected to unleash another round of legal wrangling that those close to the case predict will go nowhere.
“It’s a fitting end to Guantanamo — it sort of ends in a big mess and chaos,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, the Pentagon lawyer appointed to defend the Toronto-born Khadr.
“That’s where we started and that’s where we it looks like we’ll finish.”
Kuebler, who saw Khadr on Sunday, said the inmate remained “hopeful” that his 61/2-year ordeal was about to come to an end.
Monday was to be the start of a last-ditch pre-trial effort by Khadr’s lawyers to have any self-incriminating information he may have provided tossed out on the grounds that it was extracted under torture or abuse.
Instead, Pentagon official Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, decided last month to withdraw all charges against Khadr and other detainees, then lay them again.
“She basically hit the reset button on all the cases,” Kuebler said of Crawford’s decision. “It’s not 100 per cent clear what the effect is.”
Even the military judge presiding over Khadr’s proceedings, Col. Patrick Parrish, seemed confused.
“If, in fact, the charges referred on 24 April, 2007, have been withdrawn and re-referred on 17 Dec., 2008, it appears the first order of business at the commission session scheduled for 19 Jan., 2009, is to arraign Mr. Khadr on the newly referred charges,” Parrish told the lawyers earlier this month.
“The commission has made no decision in this matter, but the parties are expected to be prepared to go forward with all scheduled proceedings in this case.”
The chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence Morris, said he fully expected the case against Khadr to proceed Monday despite a “technical error” made by the commission authority in withdrawing and again laying charges against the accused.
“We’re still in business. We’re going to court Monday,” Morris said Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., ahead of a flight to Cuba.
Morris also gamely defended the military commissions, which legal experts around the world have condemned.
“It is an appropriate forum for trying war crimes,” he said.
One thing now appears certain, given Obama’s promise and the many legal questions surrounding the prosecution of the only Western citizen left at Guantanamo Bay: Khadr’s military-commission trial itself will not go ahead as had been slated for Jan. 26, and may never go ahead at all.
As a result, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has so far refused to get involved, is likely to come under increasing U.S. pressure to take Khadr, 22, back to Canada.
Khadr was just 15 when found badly injured in the rubble of a compound near Khost, Afghanistan, following a fierce bombardment by American forces in July 2002.
The Pentagon alleges he threw a hand grenade in the aftermath of the battle that killed an American soldier, although the defence has produced evidence that casts serious doubt on the accusation.
He has been held at the prison, which has been described by several experts as a ”legal black hole.”
“You have the future attorney general saying what we’ve been saying for months, if not years, that these commissions fail to afford basic due process,” Kuebler said.
“It is simply unimaginable to think that proceedings can continue when you have an administration on the record saying that so clearly.”
Formally, Khadr faces five charges: murder in violation of the law of war; attempted murder in violation of the law of war; conspiracy; providing material support for terrorism; and spying.