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Trained terrorist or troubled teen? In a special military tribunal yesterday, a U.S. prosecutor painted the youngest Khadr as an al-Qaeda operative, PAUL KORING reports

In a special military tribunal yesterday, a U.S. prosecutor painted the youngest Khadr as an al-Qaeda operative, PAUL KORING reports

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA

A U.S. military prosecutor said that Canadian Omar Khadr is a "terrorist" who murdered a U.S. soldier, dismissing as "nauseating" sympathetic portrayals of the teenager ahead of his expected appearance today before a special military tribunal.

"It's my belief as chief prosecutor that he is a terrorist," Colonel Morris Davis told the tribunal yesterday.

Mr. Khadr, 19, has spent the past 3½ years locked up in the high-security detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, where he was taken upon his capture after a gunfight near Khost, Afghanistan, in 2002.

His lawyers have condemned the tribunals, accusing the U.S. military of picking an inexperienced, junior lawyer as Mr. Khadr's lead counsel and charging that the Canadian government has failed to protect one of its citizen's rights.

"The room is not a court, the presiding officer is not a judge and this is not a full and fair trial . . . no matter how they dress it up, the military commission is still a sham," said Muneer Ahmad, one of Mr. Khadr's civilian lawyers.

Col. Davis insisted there would be "full, fair and open trials for the terrorists who have attacked us," and rejected any notion that Mr. Khadr shouldn't be held accountable because of his youth.

"Routinely in the United States, 15-year-olds are held accountable for murders," Col. Davis said.

He portrayed Mr. Khadr as a full-fledged al-Qaeda terrorist, a veteran of its training camps whose family often celebrated the Eid festival with Osama bin Laden.

At those camps, "they weren't making s'mores and learning how to tie knots, they were learning how to make bombs and kill Americans," he said.

Today, four years after the first al-Qaeda suspects arrived at Guantanamo, two tribunals get under way: the case against Mr. Khadr and that of Ali Hamza al Bahlul, the Yemeni former spokesman for al-Qaeda. It is unclear how, or whether, the tribunals will proceed.

"These commissions are preliminary sessions to establish the ground rules and to attempt to accept pleas," a military commission spokeswoman said.

The prosecution alleges that because Mr. Khadr wasn't wearing a uniform, and didn't serve a legitimate or internationally recognized government, he was an "'unprivileged belligerent," meaning it was murder when he allegedly tossed a grenade that fatally wounded a U.S. Special Forces medic, Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer.

"Some say we are making up the rules as we go along," but the law never envisioned al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Col. Morris said in defence of the tribunals that have drawn fierce domestic and international criticism. The military is forging ahead with the cases even though the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on their legality in June.

Defence attorneys accused the tribunals of more than making up the rules.

Even the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals allowed the accused to defend themselves, a "universally recognized right" that is denied at these tribunals, said Major Tom Fleener, the reservist lawyer recalled to active duty and ordered to defend Mr. al Bahlul.

"To force a lawyer on a defendant" is an attempt by the tribunals to add "an air of legitimacy to an otherwise wholly illegitimate process," Major Fleener said yesterday.

Mr. Khadr's own military lawyer, Captain John Merriam, didn't attend yesterday's news conference. But his civilian co-counsel left little doubt about whether he believed the young army lawyer could handle a major murder case. Mr. Khadr is "represented by a 31-year-old army captain who has never represented a defendant at trial in his life, even for charges of jaywalking," said Mr. Ahmad, a law professor at American University in Washington. "It would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CORRECTION

A U.S. military prosecutor's comments about Canadian terrorism suspect Omar Khadr were made at a news conference.

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