Omar Khadr says rejected Guantanamo plea deal

Mon Jul 12, 2010 12:39pm EDT
 
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By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A Canadian captive at the Guantanamo prison said on Monday he rejected a plea deal that would have freed him in five years if he admitted to killing a U.S. soldier in battle.

Omar Khadr, now 23, was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 and has spent more than a third of his life at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo in eastern Cuba. He is to go on trial on August 10 on charges of murdering a soldier with a grenade.

In a pre-trial hearing at the U.S. war crimes court at the base, he told a military judge that the deal would have seem him sentenced to 30 years in prison, with all but five years suspended, in return for an admission of guilt.

Khadr said it was designed "to make the U.S. government look good in the public's eye and other political reasons."

"I am not willing to let the U.S. government use me to fulfill its goals," Khadr said.

"I will not take any plea offer because it will give an excuse to the government for torturing me and abusing me as a child."

Khadr's lawyers contend that he was tortured and coerced into giving incriminating statements during interrogations at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.

In an April hearing, a U.S. military interrogator admitted making up tales of gang-rape and murder in order to frighten Khadr. Other members of the U.S. military said he was interrogated while sedated and recovering from gunshot wounds, and that he had been hooded and chained to a wall.

Lawyers in the case have acknowledged they were trying to reach a plea agreement but have not disclosed details.

Khadr was sent to Guantanamo just after his 16th birthday and is the youngest of 181 prisoners still held in the detention camp that the United States opened to hold foreign terrorism suspects in 2002.

His trial would be the first war crimes tribunal since World War Two to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile and the second at Guantanamo since President Barack Obama ordered it shut down after taking office in January 2009.

'NO JUSTICE'

The charges against Khadr were first filed in 2005 and have been dismissed and refiled at least five times because of legal challenges, administrative issues and changes in the law underpinning the tribunals.

Khadr asked on Monday to fire his American lawyers and represent himself at his trial, despite having only eight years of formal schooling.

When the judge questioned him about his legal training and knowledge of the trial rules, Khadr said familiarity with the rules did not matter.

"They're not firm, so I'm not going to bother. They can change any time," he said.

"There's no point representing myself or having anybody else ... there's no justice," he said.

He also said he was certain he would be sentenced to life in prison no matter what happened at the trial.

Khadr has gone through a dozen lawyers and three judges. He fired some attorneys and lost others to military reassignment, and the first two judges retired as the case dragged on.

He was charged with murdering U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer with a hand grenade during the battle in Afghanistan and making roadside bombs for use against U.S. forces.

He faced five charges -- murder, attempted murder, conspiring with al Qaeda, providing material support for terrorism and spying on U.S. forces, and could face life in prison if convicted on all charges.

The judge was still weighing Khadr's request to represent himself in court.

(Editing by Paul Simao)