Child Soldier Cuts Deal with Obama Administration in Murder Case

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Omar Khadr, then and now
In an attempt to avoid political embarrassment, the Obama administration has reached a deal with Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr that will keep the former child soldier from being the subject of the government’s first military tribunal.
Khadr promised to plead guilty to his original charge of throwing a grenade during a 2002 attack by U.S. forces on an Afghanistan compound, during which an American soldier, Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, was killed. This allegation came into question after Department of Defense documents surfaced indicating Khadr “was buried face down under rubble, blinded by shrapnel and crippled” at the time of the grenade attack.
In addition to the original charge, Khadr, a Canadian who was 15 years old at the time of his capture, will plead guilty to killing two Afghan soldiers during the same assault—charges that were not originally leveled against him.
“The government has never presented any evidence whatsoever that Khadr was responsible for that, and did not claim he was in its opening statement at trial,” wrote Daphne Eviatar, senior associate in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program.
In return for Khadr’s plea, U.S. attorneys agreed to reduce his sentence to one more year at Guantánamo, and an undetermined number of years in Canada after his release from U.S. custody. Had he gone through with the military tribunal, he risked receiving a life sentence.
Taking Khadr, now 23, to trial would have posed multiple problems for the U.S. Aside from his child-soldier status at the time that he was seized, Khadr’s testimony from his interrogations would have been challenged by his attorney on grounds that his remarks were coerced after being threatened with gang-rape and torture.
In addition, Khadr is not accused of killing a civilian in an act of terrorism, but rather a soldier in a battle. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have claimed that Khadr is not subject to the normal rules of war because he was not a member of a national army and he was not wearing a uniform.
“Optically, this has been a terrible case to begin the commissions with,” Matthew Waxman, the Pentagon’s top detainee affairs official during the Bush administration, told The New York Times. “There is a great deal of international skepticism and hostility toward military commissions, and this is a very tough case with which to push back against that skepticism and hostility.”
Eviatar called the plea deal “a sad day for the rule of law in the United States.” She points out that in the last eight years, the military commission system has secured five convictions while, during the same period, “U.S. civilian federal courts have convicted more than 400 terrorists.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Gitmo Guilty Plea Is a Sad Day for U.S. Rule of Law (by Daphne Eviatar, Human Rights First)
No Justice for Omar Khadr at Guantánamo (by Andy Worthington, Future of Freedom Foundation)
Deal Averts Trial in Disputed Guantánamo Case (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)
U.S. Wary of Example Set by Tribunal Case (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)
Guantanamo Critic Removed from Jury (by Robert Verkaik, The Independent)
Omar Khadr (Wikipedia)
Omar Khadr: The U.S. Military Trial of a Child Soldier (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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