GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - A young Canadian on Friday asked the U.S. military tribunal due to sentence him on terrorism and murder charges to keep in mind that U.S. interrogators tried to scare him with threats of gang rape and death.
“I know it does not change what I did but I hope you will think about it when you punish me,” Toronto native Omar Khadr said in a statement to the war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Khadr, 24, pleaded guilty on Monday to five charges that include conspiring with al Qaeda to attack civilians, murdering a U.S. soldier in battle and a making roadside bombs for use against U.S. convoys in Afghanistan. He committed these acts as a 15-year-old fighter with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The military jury is expected to begin deliberating his sentence on Saturday.
Khadr’s plea agreement calls for his repatriation to Canada in one year to serve the rest of his sentence, which is reportedly capped at eight years. The jury can give him a shorter sentence but not a longer one.
Defense lawyers had hoped to win leniency by arguing that Khadr, a teenager when captured, was treated harshly at the Bagram base in Afghanistan and the Guantanamo detention center, where he has been held for eight years.
The judge ruled previously that Khadr was not tortured or abused in U.S. custody.
He refused to let the jury review evidence from a U.S. interrogator who testified under oath in April that he and a colleague had done exactly what Khadr claimed -- used indirect threats of gang-rape and murder while questioning him as a badly wounded 15-year-old captive at Bagram.
They told Khadr that a young Muslim who lied to interrogators was sent to an American prison that held “big black guys” and Nazis who were angry at Muslims because of the September 11 attacks.
“They caught him in the shower ... they raped him ... We think he ended up dying,” Khadr quoted the interrogators as telling him.
Because Khadr’s statement to the jury was unsworn, prosecutors and jurors were not allowed to question him about it. The interrogator who admitted making up the threat, Joshua Claus, was later court-martialed for abusing prisoners at Bagram, including one who died.
Khadr was captured during a firefight in Afghanistan and is the first person since World War Two prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile.
He admitted throwing the grenade that killed a special forces soldier, U.S. Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer, during the 2002 battle in which Khadr himself was shot twice in the back and blinded in one eye.
In wrenching testimony that had soldiers weeping in the courtroom on Thursday, Speer’s widow, Tabitha Speer, described her husband’s death and the impact on her two young children.
Khadr told her he was “very, very sorry,” but she told him, “You will always be a murderer in my eyes.”
Khadr is the son of an al Qaeda financier who took his family to Afghanistan when Omar was a boy, sent him to weapons training camp and apprenticed him to a group of al Qaeda bomb-makers.
The U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, sent a letter to the tribunal saying Khadr should be treated as a child soldier recruited by unscrupulous adults. She urged the court to send him to a controlled rehabilitation program in Canada instead of imposing a prison sentence.
A Pentagon spokeswoman would not say whether jurors would be allowed to see the letter.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech