Tribunal considers role of Canadian minor in alleged war crimes

Monday, February 4, 2008

Khadr, at the age of fourteen.

A military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is hearing arguments today over the legality of trying Canadian Omar Khadr for alleged war crimes, given his status as a minor at the time of the incident.

Khadr is charged with the murder of Sgt. Christopher Speer, in addition to attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. The charges stem from a 2002 incident in which the 15-year old allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. troops after they directed an air-strike at the Afghan compound he was sharing with Mujahideen insurgents.

A number of groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have sent a letter to Secretary of Defence Robert Gates alleging that the military tribunal is "not equipped to meet juvenile justice standards" and that Khadr should either be tried before a civilian court or repatriated to Canada.

Edney (L) and Kuebler (R)
Image: Joshua Sherurcij.

Jennifer Daskal, senior counter-terrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch explained that the United States "should not make matters worse by prosecuting him before an unfair military tribunal."

Khadr's lawyer Dennis Edney challenged the attempts to label the 21-year old as a war criminal asking "...Why is he not being treated as a child soldier?" Lt Cdr Bill Kuebler, the American military commissions counsel in the case, agreed that the charges should be dismissed since the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute minors.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper however, has said that his country will not intervene in the case to seek extradition of Khadr, re-affirming Canada's status as the only Western country who has not demanded the release or extradition of their citizens held in Guantanamo.

Claiming to have been abused, threatened with rape and forced into painful positions since his arrival in Guantanamo in 2002 , Omar Khadr has been the subject of two psychiatric assessments that claimed he suffered from mental disorder as a result of his imprisonment, and was at risk of suicide.

Khadr was previously charged by the Guantanamo military commission in November 2005, before the judicial body was ruled "unlawful" by the Supreme Court. Last June, a military judge dismissed a second series of charges against Khadr because his 2004 Combatant Status Review Tribunal had classified as an "enemy combatant" rather than an "illegal enemy combatant", meaning that he did not qualify under the Military Commissions Act. Three months later, however, the Court of Military Commission Review ruled that the Commission would be allowed to make its own determination of the legality of a combatant.

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