Canadian ex-child soldier pleads guilty at Guantanamo

Last Updated: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 23:51

Guantanamo Bay: Canadian captive Omar Khadr pleaded guilty on Monday to all five terrorism charges against him in the US war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay naval base as part of a deal that would limit his sentence.

Khadr, who was captured in Afghanistan at age 15 and is now 24, admitted he conspired with al Qaeda and killed a US soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan. Before finalizing the plea, the judge said he would question Khadr to ensure the defendant understood he was waiving his right to appeal.

Terms of the plea deal were not immediately disclosed, but lawyers had reportedly discussed an agreement that would let Khadr serve one more year at Guantanamo and then seven years in Canada.

The plea deal would end a widely criticized trial that made the United States the first nation since World War Two to prosecute someone in a war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile.

Khadr is the second man to plead guilty in the tribunal during the administration of President Barack Obama, whose efforts to close the detention camp have been blocked by Congress. He is the fifth captive convicted since the United States established the tribunals to try foreign captives on terrorism charges after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Bureau Report

A plea deal would halt the trial that makes the United States the first nation since World War Two to try someone in a military tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a minor, a distinction the Obama administration is eager to avoid.

If Khadr pleads guilty, the judge, Army Colonel Patrick Parrish, would go through the five-count charge sheet line by line and ask Khadr to admit he helped al Qaeda operatives make roadside bombs, spied on US convoys in Afghanistan and threw the grenade that killed US Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer during the battle in which Khadr himself was shot twice in the back and blinded in one eye.

War criminals

A sentencing hearing would follow, with the seven military officers on the jury hearing testimony from Speer`s widow, Tabitha Speer, and from at least one other US soldier wounded in the firefight.

They would also hear testimony from psychologists who have met with Khadr and are expected to discuss how his upbringing affected his choices. Khadr`s late father was a confidant of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and sent his Toronto-born son to weapons-training camps as soon as the boy was big enough to hold an AK-47.

The jury would then be asked to issue a sentence. If it differs from that specified in the plea agreement, whichever is shorter would be the actual sentence.

Khadr would be the fifth man convicted at Guantanamo. He would join bin Laden`s cook, his driver and his videographer, and an Australian al Qaeda trainee on the roster of war criminals.

Khadr would be the only person held liable for the death of a US soldier in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 US troops have been killed in hostilities.

If Khadr rejects a plea deal, as he said he did with an earlier one, his trial would proceed and he could face life in prison if convicted in a case the United Nations has criticized as being "of dubious legality."

His lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Khadr is a child soldier, who by law should be rehabilitated rather than tried in a war crimes tribunal.

The jury has already seen a video of Khadr making and helping plant roadside bombs, and would hear testimony from several US interrogators who say Khadr gave them detailed confessions.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, October 25, 2010 - 23:51

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