Canadian's battle role cast in doubt at Guantanamo

Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:04pm EST
 
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By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A Canadian teen was buried facedown under the rubble of a bombed-out compound when someone threw the grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, according to a soldier's report cited at the U.S. war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo on Friday.

The account raised doubts about whether Canadian defendant Omar Khadr, who is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, could have thrown the grenade that killed Speer during the July 2002 firefight in a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan.

Defense lawyers want the soldier who gave that account of the battle to testify at Khadr's January 26 trial at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

They debated the witness list in court on Friday even as they hoped that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will pull the plug on the Guantanamo tribunals before Khadr's trial begins.

Obama takes office on January 20 and has said he would move the Guantanamo trials into the regular civilian or military courts. He has not specifically addressed how he would handle Khadr's case or 16 others already pending in the Guantanamo tribunals, which were established by the Bush administration to try foreign captives on terrorism charges and have been widely condemned by human rights activists and foreign governments.

"I cannot believe that the Obama administration really wants as one of its first official acts to be the first administration in U.S. history to preside over the trial of a child on war crimes," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, Khadr's military lawyer.

Khadr, now a tall and bearded 22-year-old, was 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces who entered the compound after the aerial bombing ended. Speer was in the lead and was hit with a grenade but accounts of what happened next varied widely.

Khadr was sitting up and moving when a U.S. soldier shot him twice in the back, believing he had thrown the grenade that hit Speer, according to the shooter's report on the incident.   Continued...

 
<p>A drawing by artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the US military, shows young Canadian captive, Omar Khadr, who is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002, as his lead defense counsel, Navy Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, addresses the judge, Army Colonel Pat Parrish at a pre-trial session at the Guantanamo Bay naval base December 12, 2008. Khadr's trial is scheduled to start on January 26, 2009 ,a date now in doubt because of the change in the U.S. Administration. REUTERS/Janet Hamlin/Pool</p>