Canadian teen faces disputed US military tribunal

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Omar Ahmed Khadr

19-year-old Canadian citizen Omar Ahmed Khadr attended a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, January 11, in front of a military tribunal at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay in his case involving charges of murder, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

Khadr was 15 when on July 27, 2002, following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he was present in a compound near Khost which was surrounded by US soldiers. After a fierce firefight and U.S. bombings of the compound, U.S. special operations forces Sgt. Christopher Speer, who has training as a medic, led a group of US soldiers searching the compound in the belief that everybody inside had been killed. According to U.S. army reports, Omar Khadr, who was wounded by the bombings and the only survivor in the compound, fired his pistol and threw a grenade which killed Christopher Speer and wounded three others. In response, Khadr was engaged by U.S. forces and shot three times, which left him nearly blind in one eye.

While still 15 years old, Khadr was transferred to the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, where he was kept together with adult detainees, separate from other children who received better treatment and some formal education. Now Khadr is 19 and is facing the tribunal operated exclusively by the US military.

The tribunal is referred to by different media organizations as a "war crimes court", a "military commission" or a "military tribunal". Its legality is presently under dispute. The USA has not ratified the international treaty creating the International Criminal Court, so the nature of the tribunal under international law is unclear. The Miami Herald reports that "military defense lawyers and legal observers [condemn] the so-called military commissions as stacked against the defendants", but that the chief Pentagon prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris "Moe" Davis defended the tribunal, stating that the purpose of the tribunals is to provide a fair trial while addressing an enemy whose actions had not been anticipated under the Geneva Conventions. "We have nothing to be ashamed of, and I'm proud of everybody involved in the process," he said.

The Supreme Court of the US is expected to decide on the constitutionality of this type of military tribunal in the next few months, with oral arguments in March, to consider charges that the "tribunals" violate US obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

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Khadr has requested an upgrade to his legal team. The military defense lawyer appointed to him by the tribunal is a 31-year-old army captain, who has never before handled a trial defense and just recently returned from his tour of duty in Iraq.

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