GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Canadian captive Omar Khadr pleaded guilty on Monday to all five terrorism charges against him in the U.S. war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay naval base as part of a deal that could send him home to serve the rest of his sentence in a year.
Khadr, who was 15 and gravely wounded when captured during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002, admitted he conspired with al Qaeda and killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade.
Terms of the 24-year-old Toronto native’s plea deal were not immediately disclosed, but lawyers had reportedly discussed an eight-year cap on his total sentence.
The United States agreed to support Khadr’s request to return to Canada in one year to serve the rest of his sentence there, Khadr’s lawyers told the court.
They said U.S. and Canadian officials had exchanged diplomatic notes but that his return would ultimately be up to the Canadian government.
A spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon acknowledged that Khadr had pleaded guilty and said, “This matter is between Mr. Khadr and the U.S. government. We have no further comment.”
A jury of seven U.S. military officers will gather in the courtroom on Tuesday to hear testimony about the impact of Khadr’s actions and then impose a sentence. If their sentence differs from that in the plea agreement, Khadr will serve whichever is shorter.
Before accepting the plea, the judge said questioned Khadr to ensure the defendant understood he was waiving his right to appeal.
The plea deal ends a widely criticized trial that made the United States the first nation since World War Two to prosecute someone in a war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile. Khadr’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that he was a child soldier who should be rehabilitated rather than prosecuted in a military tribunal.
Khadr could have faced life in prison if convicted on all counts during the trial.
He wore a dark gray suit and neatly trimmed beard for his hearing in the hilltop courtroom that he first entered four and a half years ago as a pimple-faced teen.
Seated at a table beside his U.S. military lawyers and his Canadian attorney, Khadr looked down and held his head in his hands. He answered “yes,” over and over, admitting his guilt as the judge, Army Colonel Patrick Parrish, went through the charges line by line.
Khadr admitted he threw the grenade that killed U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer during a firefight at an al Qaeda compound near the Afghan city of Khost in 2002.
Speer’s widow, Tabitha Speer, sat in the front row of the courtroom, crying and holding her sister’s hand as Khadr made the admission.
Khadr acknowledged the court’s jurisdiction to try him, admitted he conspired with al Qaeda to carry out terrorist attacks, and acknowledged making and planting roadside bombs targeting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
He is the second man to plead guilty in the tribunal during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose efforts to close the detention camp have been blocked by Congress. Khadr is the fifth prisoner convicted since the United States established the tribunals to try foreign captives on terrorism charges after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Canada has never sought the repatriation of Khadr, whose father was an al Qaeda financier and Osama bin Laden confidant killed in a shootout with Pakistani police. His mother and several siblings live in the Toronto area.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Paul Simao.