Omar Khadr may get a Canadian lawyer to help defend him against charges of murder and aiding al-Qaeda, the presiding officer at his military tribunal said yesterday.
"Start making preliminary inquiries about [a Canadian lawyer] joining the defence team in some capacity," U.S. Marine Colonel Robert Chester told Muneer Ahmad, one of Mr. Khadr's civilian attorneys, on the second day of pretrial hearings at this naval base.
The colonel also voiced approval of Mr. Khadr's upgraded wardrobe.
Gone -- after Col. Chester made it clear he wasn't happy -- was the logo-emblazoned Roots jersey that made Mr. Khadr, 19, look like he was headed to the mall. Instead, he appeared yesterday in a subdued grey, white and blue dress shirt.
"I note that Mr. Khadr is more appropriately attired," the black-robed colonel said. He also made it clear to prosecutors that he expected them to treat the Canadian with respect.
"Mr. Khadr is an adult, he's on trial for murder and I think it's appropriate that he be addressed as Mr. Khadr . . . not Omar," Col. Chester said.
Human-rights groups and others supporting Mr. Khadr have pointedly noted that he was a juvenile when he is alleged to have killed a U.S. soldier, and shouldn't be on trial as an adult, if at all.
The prosecutor said he planned to refer to Mr. Khadr as "the accused."
The tribunals have been specially created to try detainees held offshore in jurisdictional limbo, and current rules prohibit terrorist suspects from defending themselves or picking lawyers who are not U.S. citizens with security clearances.
After long legal wrangling between defence and prosecution lawyers over accusations by Mr. Ahmad, who contended that comments by chief prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis transgressed ethical rules and were unfair, Col. Chester denied defence requests to have the prosecutor admonished.
Although Col. Chester agreed that some of Col. Davis's comments -- made two days earlier at a news conference -- "extended beyond that normally heard from a military prosecutor," he also said the colonel was justified because he was responding to harsh attacks initiated by defence attorneys and others. The tribunals have been condemned as a sham and a mockery of justice, and Mr. Ahmad has accused the government of torturing Mr. Khadr.
Earlier, Mr. Khadr told the tribunal that he wanted a Canadian lawyer and a new military lawyer when he first appeared in the makeshift courtroom on Wednesday.
Col. Chester seems inclined to grant both requests, although it remains unclear whether any Canadian lawyer can be a formal member of the defence team or will have to attend in some secondary, advisory role.
Mr. Khadr, seated at the defence table, watched almost the entire proceedings on one of the many large TV screens positioned in the tribunal room.
Although Mr. Khadr's trial isn't expected to begin until next summer, the sessions this week have provided a rare glimpse of the contentious tribunal process and of the accused, last publicly seen as a 15-year-old after his capture in Afghanistan.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said it will rule on the legality of the tribunals, which have been condemned as fundamentally unjust by human-rights organizations. That ruling could affect all nine of the tribunals, including Mr. Khadr's, that have been started.
However, yesterday, the Bush administration said newly passed legislation limiting the rights of Guantanamo detainees to petition U.S. civilian courts means the Supreme Court should cease considering the legality of the tribunals.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers claim the new law applied to the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and driver. It was that case the Supreme Court agreed, last November, to review.