Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Photo by Larisa Epatko
Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo Bay detainee accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty to all five terrorism and murder charges on Monday.
Khadr’s case garnered international attention because of his age — 15 — at the time of his capture, and the implications of putting a “child soldier” on trial, rather than trying to rehabilitate him as advocacy groups had urged.
The Canadian-born Khadr, now 24, was present at a firefight with U.S. forces at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 2002. He was arrested, badly injured, for throwing the grenade that killed U.S. Delta Force soldier Christopher Speer.
Khadr was held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for four months and then at the controversial Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba for eight years.
His military commission trial began Aug. 12 but was cut short when his defense attorney Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson collapsed in the courtroom. The trial was delayed for several weeks, during which time the U.S. government and Khadr’s lawyers worked out a plea deal.
The terms of the deal have not yet been released but reportedly involve serving time in Canada. If Khadr had been found guilty during a military trial, he would have faced a life sentence. The five charges he pleaded guilty to under the 2006 Military Commissions Act were murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and espionage.
When the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, read through a list detailing the charges on Monday, the suit-clad Khadr agreed to knowing he was attacking civilians, wanted to kill U.S. troops and had received training from an al-Qaida operative, according to The Globe and Mail:
“You should only do this if you truly believe it is in your best interests,” Col. Parrish told Mr. Khadr.
“Yes,” he replied again, his voice clear and direct in the hushed courtroom.
The hearing was over in less than an hour. The sentencing portion of Khadr’s case begins Wednesday and is expected to last several days.