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Canadian not innocent, U.S. prosecutor argues

Canadian Press

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — The U.S. military lawyer prosecuting Omar Khadr said Tuesday that the Canadian teenager is no fresh-faced innocent but a terrorist murderer who deserves to be convicted by a special military tribunal.

Chief prosecutor Mo Davis blasted “nauseating” sympathetic portrayals of Mr. Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured after a July, 2002, firefight in Afghanistan that killed a U.S. medic. Authorities could have sought the death penalty but did not because Mr. Khadr was a juvenile, Mr. Davis said in comments the day before the teen's first appearance at a pre-trial hearing.

“You'll see evidence when we get into the courtroom of the smiling face of Omar Khadr as he builds bombs to kill Americans,” Mr. Davis said.

“I don't think it's a great leap to figure out why we're holding him accountable,” he said, charging that Mr. Khadr and others picked up the tools of terrorism at al-Qaeda training camps.

“They weren't making s'mores and learning how to tie knots.”

Mr. Khadr, now 19, is expected to enter a plea in a pre-trial hearing Wednesday that's going ahead despite attempts by his defence lawyers to stop it and a pending decision by the Supreme Court on whether the military tribunals are constitutional.

Charged with murder and other counts arising from the death of the medic, he has been held at the U.S. military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.

One of his U.S. lawyers, Muneer Ahmad, called it “astounding, shameful and appalling” that Americans are prosecuting Mr. Khadr, saying he has “reliable evidence” that Mr. Khadr has been tortured during his 39 months in Guantanamo.

He called on Canada to denounce the tribunal system set up by U.S. President George W. Bush, saying it allows confessions extracted by torture and does not afford anywhere near the kind of due process of criminal civil trials.

“Canada has a decision to make,” Mr. Ahmad said, “either to publicly condemn the military commissions as fundamentally unfair ... or to remain silent on the matter and complicit in the sham trial.”

Mr. Davis vigorously defended the system for terrorism suspects captured in the Afghanistan war, saying “we've got nothing to be ashamed of.

“We want the world to see that we're extending a full, fair and open trial to the terrorists that have attacked us. We're extending rights to them that they've never contemplated.”

Mr. Davis argued that the new threat posed by al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists has necessitated changes in military law, just as there were revisions for the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after the Second World War.

“Some say we're making up the rules as we go along but the law has to adapt to today's environment,” he said. “We're here to prosecute unlawful conduct, not persecute religious beliefs.”

It is particularly galling, Mr. Davis said, that human-rights organizations are calling some 500 detainees the “patriots of Guantanamo” who are standing up for their rights, yet they delay their military tribunals by every means possible.

“I hate to quote Bart Simpson as an authority but damned if you do, damned if you don't. That's the situation that we face.”

Only nine of the detainees have actually been formally charged with war crimes and three of the tribunals have been stayed pending the Supreme Court decision, expected by June.

There are a couple dozen other cases in the works, said Mr. Davis, with charges expected in the coming months.

Mr. Khadr will be formally represented by Captain John Merriam, a U.S. Army judge advocate with no trial experience, “even on charges of jaywalking,” said Mr. Ahmad, who is asking that he should be replaced by someone with more experience.

“It would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high,” he said.

U.S. authorities say Mr. Khadr threw a grenade that killed U.S. medic Christopher Speer in an alleged al-Qaeda compound. He was shot three times by U.S. soldiers and is near-blind in one eye.

Mr. Khadr's lawyers say he has been constantly interrogated, shackled in stress positions for several hours until he has soiled himself and subjected to extreme temperatures.

Mr. Khadr was formally charged last November.

In what Mr. Ahmad has called a “crass political move,” word of the charges came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear a constitutional challenge to the military tribunals faced by Mr. Khadr and eight others so far.

Mr. Khadr is expected to attend the hearing in his first public appearance since he was captured and then sent to Guantanamo in October 2002 just after he turned 16.

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