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Guantanamo’s youngest detainee faces his judges

Text by Emmanuel SAINT-MARTIN

Latest update : 2008-12-13

Omar Khadr, a Canadian national and the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, faces military judges Friday on the US base in Cuba for a preliminary hearing. His trial is scheduled to start January 26, 2009.

Watch the report, A look inside Guantanamo prison, by FRANCE 24's Emmanuel Saint-Martin and Nathan King.


Omar Khadr was only 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan, where he was allegedly fighting with the Taliban. He is 22 now, and accused by his US captors of "murder in violation of the rules of war". The Canadian national has been accused of throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002.

Khadr is not only the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo, he is also the last national of a Western nation still being held at the US detention camp in Cuba. The others (French, British, German and Australian, among others) have returned to their countries where most of them are free. But the Bush administration has continued to detain the Canadian citizen, who does not appear to have a direct link to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and was, according to international law, a “child soldier” when he was apprehended.

A trial that may never take place

On Friday, the hearing will have to determine if the acts Khadr is accused of were “in violation of the rules of war”. The prosecution says they were because he was not a soldier but rather a terrorist. Whether the trial can continue hinges on that ruling.

Lawyers for the young Canadian, who have affirmed since the beginning that their client is a victim of his radical family who has been involved in the war, will once again try to delay the trial, which has already been pushed back several times.

The trial, scheduled for Jan. 26, 2009 — six days after the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama — may never take place under the current military-commission system.

During Obama's campaign, the new US president promised repeatedly that he wanted to close the Guantanamo detention facility and put an end to the military trials created by the Bush administration to judge certain detainees.

To date, only three detainees have been tried, two of whom returned to their countries after a light sentence.

Most human rights and legal experts say the evidence against Khadr seems too weak to be able to hold up in a US civil court or an ordinary military tribunal.

Khadr could then become the first beneficiary of the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility.

Date created : 2008-12-12