- al Qaeda - Guantanamo - justice - terrorism - USA
Omar Khadr, a Canadian national detained at Guantanamo Bay since the age of 15, faced a military judge on Friday at the US base in Cuba for a final preliminary hearing. His trial is scheduled to start January 26, 2009.
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 defendant to be tried for war crimes 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
He appeared on Friday before a military judge in Guantanamo for a preliminary hearing that allowed his lawyers to insist on their main argument : Omar Khadr did not launch the grenade that killed Sgt Christopher Speer. The military attorney Bill Kuebler wanted to show pictures taken the day of his capture on an Al Qaeda base after a battle with American soldiers, but the judge denied the request. "One more time, the government has acted to prevent the public to know the truth" says Kuebler, who has fought for months to stop this impending trial to go ahead.
If he can’t show them, Kuebler can talk at least about the pictures : "These pictures would prove Khadr innocent because they show him buried under the rubbles of a building destroyed by air bombardment ; so he couldn’t have thrown the grenade." If the judge allows these pictures to be shown during the trial, they could conflict with testimony of US soldiers used by the prosecution.
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.
According to Bill Kuebler : "Barack Obama will not want to be the first US president whose administration would have seen a child convicted for war crimes.".