March 14, 2008 / 12:24 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. falsely implicates Guantanamo prisoner: lawyer

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A U.S. military report on a battle in which a U.S. soldier died in Afghanistan was altered after the fact to falsely blame a young Canadian prisoner, his lawyer said on Thursday.

<p>Omar Khadr is seen in this undated family portrait. A U.S. military report on a battle in which a U.S. soldier died in Afghanistan was altered after the fact to falsely blame a young Canadian prisoner, his lawyer said on Thursday. REUTERS/Handout/Files</p>

The report initially said the assailant who threw the fatal grenade had himself been killed in the battle near the Afghan city of Khost on July 27, 2002, the lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, told reporters at the Guantanamo naval base.

The officer who wrote that report on July 28, 2002, revised it about two months later to say the grenade thrower survived, implicating Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, said Kuebler. He asked a judge in the Guantanamo war court to allow him to interview that officer about the contradictory accounts.

Khadr is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a special forces medic who entered a suspected al Qaeda compound after an aerial bombing and was hit by a grenade.

No one saw who threw the grenade but the U.S. military says it must have been Khadr because he was the only person still alive inside the compound when U.S. forces entered.

“We now know that story was false,” Kuebler said. “It’s consistent with the proposition that the government manufactured evidence to make it look like Omar was guilty.”

Another U.S. soldier said in documents released in February that a second al Qaeda suspect was lying on the floor of the compound with an AK-47 assault rifle at his side, injured and moaning but still alive after the grenade was thrown. The soldier said he shot and killed that suspect, then shot Khadr twice in the back as Khadr sat on the floor.

The altered report was written by a U.S. military officer known as “Col. W,” who was in charge at the scene but did not see what happened inside the compound, Kuebler said.

The deputy chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bruce Pagel, denied the government had manufactured evidence but said trial rules prohibited him from further discussion of evidence.

Khadr, now 21 and the son of an alleged al Qaeda financier, was captured at age 15. He is set for trial in May in the special military tribunals established by the Bush administration to try terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base in Cuba rather than in traditional civilian or military courts. They are the first U.S. war tribunals since World War Two.

MOVING TRIALS ALONG

The Pentagon is trying to move the Guantanamo trials along before the end of the Bush administration and charges are now pending against 13 of the 275 prisoners. Human rights groups call the proceedings a farce as detainees do not have legal rights normally accorded U.S. citizens and prisoners of war.

Kuebler asked prosecutors to turn over U.S. and Canadian diplomatic messages about Khadr’s case, as well as additional notes and records from interrogators who questioned Khadr at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan and later at Guantanamo.

Kuebler said “the myth about Omar’s participation appears to have been manufactured at Bagram,” where Khadr was interrogated by a military unit later accused of abusing prisoners.

Prosecutors said they had already given the defense everything that could be material, helpful or exculpatory. The judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, said he would rule within a few days on the defense request for more evidence.

Editing by Alan Elsner and Tom Brown

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