MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. military has reset the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal of a young Canadian captive for November 10, meaning his murder trial will be delayed until after elections in the United States and Canada.
Omar Khadr’s trial was scheduled to begin on October 8, but a military judge postponed it this month amid defense complaints that the government failed to turn over evidence.
The November trial date was announced on Tuesday for Toronto-born Khadr, who was 15 when captured after a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan and accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. special forces soldier.
Khadr, who will turn 22 on Friday, faces life in prison if convicted in the special military tribunals created by the Bush administration to try foreign captives on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts.
Khadr’s lawyers have asked that an independent psychologist and psychiatrist be allowed to examine him, arguing that his thinking may have been temporarily impaired by the 500-pound (225-kg) bombs that U.S. forces dropped on the compound before entering what was left of it.
If the request is granted, the trial would be “very unlikely” to start on November 10, said his military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler.
It was unclear whether the tribunals would continue under the next U.S. administration. Both major candidates vying to succeed President George W. Bush in the November 4 elections have said they would close the widely criticized detention operation on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush administration officials concede that the operation has stained the United States’ image, but said efforts to send home more of the 255 remaining prisoners have been stymied and the camp’s fate will likely be an issue for the next president.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called parliamentary elections for October 14. That election looks set to strengthen the Harper government, which has declined to intervene in the trial and shown no interest in repatriating Khadr.
Khadr is the last citizen of a Western nation held at Guantanamo. Human rights advocates say he would be the first person in modern times tried on war crimes charges for acts allegedly committed as a child.
“Omar is trapped in an inherently political process. However, whether the elections will have any direct impact is unclear,” Kuebler said.
“I think the interesting question for Canadians is whether Canada really wants go down in history as the only western nation to have supported U.S. policy on Guantanamo and the military commissions (tribunals) to the bitter end.”
Canada, a strong U.S. ally, sent its troops to Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led invasion to oust al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was criticized after he intervened in 1995 to help free Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, from Pakistani custody after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of Egypt’s embassy in Pakistan.
The elder Khadr, who was working with an aid group in Afghanistan, was later alleged to be an al Qaeda financier, who sent his sons to al Qaeda weapons training camps and spent holidays with Osama bin Laden’s family. The elder Khadr was killed by Pakistani forces in a 2003 raid.
Only one full trial as been completed at Guantanamo and only one other is scheduled to take place before the U.S. election. Accused al Qaeda videographer Ali Hamza al Bahlul is scheduled for trial on October 27 on charges of conspiring with al Qaeda, soliciting to commit murder and providing material support for terrorism.
He has called the trials a sham and said he would boycott, instructing his military lawyer not to put on any defense.
Editing by Jim Loney