Omar Khadr, the Canadian who is facing a trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may or may not be guilty as charged of murdering a U.S. serviceman and of committing other serious crimes. As he was 15 years old at the time the offences were allegedly committed, it may not be legal under international law for him to be prosecuted. For that matter, the military commissions set up to try Mr. Khadr and other suspected terrorists captured outside the United States may not have the legal right to do so. But if the Bush administration insists on proceeding anyway, the least it can do is provide a defence lawyer who knows what he's doing.
The Office of Military Commissions says that Mr. Khadr and other defendants will receive as fair a trial as they would in a U.S. court, with the same presumption of innocence and rights to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Then it appoints as Mr. Khadr's military defender a young captain who has never tried a single case, let alone one with such major legal implications.
The U.S. government is proceeding with the trials of Mr. Khadr and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Yemeni national, without waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on their legality. A federal court earlier ruled that President George W. Bush had the constitutional authority to set up the tribunals. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal of that verdict in March.
Mr. Khadr has been jailed at Guantanamo since his capture in Afghanistan in 2002, so he has been detained a long time before getting to face his accusers in a court of law. There are serious questions about whether the military tribunal will go out of its way to be impartial or merely go through the motions. It would be better to wait for the Supreme Court to pronounce on its legitimacy. In the meantime, appointing an experienced defence lawyer, toning down the inflammatory rhetoric of the chief military prosecutor and approving Mr. Khadr's request to have a Canadian lawyer on his legal team would help allay concerns that this particular court has a whiff of kangaroo about it.