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GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba | Canadian-born, accused terrorist Omar Khadr said Monday he wanted no representation at his upcoming trial. He called the military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay “unfair and unjust.”
The Toronto native was arrested at age 15 and has been detained for eight years for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer during a July 2002 firefight near Khost, Afghanistan.
Now 23, Khadr faces five charges under the 2006 Military Commissions Act: murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.
The court proceedings Monday, which took place in a converted airport terminal at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, were for the judge to hear whether Khadr wanted to represent himself. During a lengthy exchange with Judge U.S. Army Col. Patrick Parrish, the bearded Khadr wearing a white T-shirt and pants and black sneakers, repeatedly said he wanted to boycott the proceedings and that it didn’t matter whether he had lawyers or not or represented himself.
“I’m going to get a life sentence either way. This is unfair and unjust. I’m boycotting this process,” Khadr said.
Then, reading from a handwritten statement, he said the military commission process was constructed not for justice but for the U.S. government to look good. “I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfill its goal,” he said. “I have been used too many times when I was a child and that’s why I’m here taking blame and paying for thing I didn’t have a chance in doing but was told to do by elders.”
Khadr fired his American defense team — the third set of lawyers he has fired — earlier this month. He continues to work with Canadian counsel, who as foreign attorney consultants, cannot act as his lawyers in the military commission.
The move delayed a hearing originally scheduled for this week on a motion to suppress evidence that his previous defense lawyers said was extracted while he was mistreated at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was held for four months.
Khadr reportedly told his lawyers that interrogators shackled him in painful positions, threatened him with rape and used him as a “human mop” to wipe up his urine.
Khadr also said Monday that he wanted his trial to take place as soon as possible, rather than waiting until the scheduled start date of Aug. 10.
But by dismissing his lawyers and deciding not to represent himself, Khadr forced that start date into uncertainty as his remaining defense lawyer — assigned to him by the judge — regroups.
“I’m not going to allow an unrepresented accused in here. That’s not going to happen,” Judge Parrish said.
Human Rights Watch, one of the advocacy groups following Khadr’s case, has urged the U.S. government to stop prosecuting his case, partly because of his family circumstances and young age at the time of his arrest.
“People should recognize the unique situation that they don’t enter combat of their own volition. And in particular with the case of Omar Khadr, you see that he was in a family environment that encouraged — his family hung around with al-Qaida,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counsel in Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program. “His father took him to a violent region, and any sort of conduct he might have committed was in the context of this family and cultural environment that he was brought into at a young impressionable age.”
The group hopes charges will be dropped and Khadr will be repatriated to Canada, said Prasow. Canada has not sought his return.
Khadr’s Canadian counsel, Dennis Edney, said that in the last month, Khadr considered a tentative deal of up to a 30-year sentence to spend time in jail in Guantanamo for five years and the rest in Canada. Neither U.S. defense nor prosecution lawyers verified the deal.
“Mr. Khadr turned them down,” Edney said. “Mr. Khadr could not admit to guilt of something he didn’t do.”
As for the issue of Khadr’s age, Navy Capt. David Iglesias, prosecutor and spokesman for U.S. v. Omar Khadr, said: “There is nothing in American law — state, federal, or military commissions — that prohibits a government from prosecuting an underage suspect, so we’re going forward with our prosecution. The only time that age comes into play is for sentencing purposes, so if Khadr is found guilty by the (military commission) members at some point in the future, they can take his age at the time of the offense into consideration. But it is not a bar, legally, for a prosecution.”
Meanwhile, Khadr’s efforts to boycott the proceedings will not impact the prosecution, Iglesias said. “We’re ready to go to trial. We (will) just put our case on and there’s no defense.”
Prasow of Human Rights Watch said Khadr’s case would be the first real trial — or one that hasn’t been plea bargained — under the Obama administration. “And for that to be a prosecution of a child soldier, which hasn’t happened in over 50 years, I think it would really be a travesty,” she said.
“The problem that the Obama administration has with this case is that there are live victims, there are family members, the widow and mother of the soldier who was killed allegedly by the grenade that Khadr threw,” she added. “I think it’s very difficult when you have visceral victims in pain to say we want to exercise our prosecutorial discretion not to bring this case forward.”
Larisa Epatko produced multimedia web features and broadcast reports with a focus on foreign affairs for the PBS NewsHour. She has reported in places such as Jordan, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Sudan, Western Sahara, Guantanamo Bay, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Germany and Ireland.
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