March 16, 2008 / 1:18 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. ordered to aid in Guantanamo captive's defense

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Military lawyers defending a Canadian prisoner at Guantanamo can see notes from his interrogations and question an officer who implicated him in a U.S. soldier’s death in Afghanistan, a war court judge ordered in rulings released on Friday.

Toronto-born prisoner Omar Khadr, now 21, was captured in a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan at age 15. He was scheduled to go to trial in May on charges of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during the battle, the first Guantanamo case to proceed to full trial.

The date was postponed indefinitely to allow military defense lawyers time to review the additional evidence they had accused prosecutors of withholding.

The judge, Army. Col. Peter Brownback, said Khadr’s military lawyers can interview the U.S. military officer in charge of the July 2002 operation that led to Khadr’s capture near the Afghan city of Khost. The officer wrote in an initial battle report that the grenade thrower had been killed, then revised it two months later to implicate Khadr, who was shot and wounded.

The judge ruled that taking and preserving that officer’s testimony was “in the interests of justice.”

He also ordered military prosecutors to give defense lawyers a list of all Khadr’s interrogators and make them available for phone interviews, and to provide original notes made by them and other government agents who questioned Khadr.

Brownback’s rulings were distributed on Friday after hearings for three captives charged in the special war court created by the Bush administration to try suspected terrorists at the remote U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba, outside the regular civilian and military courts.

Brownback also ruled that Khadr’s lawyers could examine all records from the government’s investigation into allegations made by a former Guantanamo chief prosecutor, who resigned last year citing political interference in the cases.

Khadr’s Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, had argued he needed to review the evidence before trial in order to prepare an effective defense. Prosecutors had argued that much of the information interrogators got from Khadr was unrelated to the charges against him and the defense didn’t need it.

The U.S. military began sending prisoners to Guantanamo in 2002 and plans to try about 80 of the 276 who remain. Charges are pending against 13 and only one case has been resolved, that of an Australian former prisoner who avoided trial by pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism and finished his nine-month sentence in his homeland.

Most of the delays have been due to challenges by military defense lawyers, who contend the Guantanamo court system is fundamentally unfair and rigged to produce convictions. They are the first U.S. war tribunals since World War Two.

Khadr is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a special forces medic who entered the compound after an aerial bombing and was hit by a grenade that also injured other U.S. soldiers. He is also charged with attempted murder, providing material support for terrorism and conspiring with al Qaeda, and could face life in prison. (Editing by Tom Brown and Doina Chiacu)

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