Guantanamo gears up for 1st trial under Obama
Detainee accused in soldier’s death
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — American military officers were flying to Guantanamo Bay from bases around the world yesterday to serve as jurors for war crimes suspects as the offshore tribunal system gears up for one of its busiest weeks under President Obama.
The Pentagon is holding military commissions sessions this week for two detainees: a young Canadian going on trial for the slaying of a US soldier in Afghanistan, and an aide to Osama bin Laden who is to be sentenced after pleading guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
The tribunal system that ground to a halt after Obama took office is coming alive with lawyers, human rights observers, and more than 30 journalists who are here at the US Navy base in southeastern Cuba to attend today’s proceedings.
Obama has introduced some changes designed to extend more legal protections to detainees, but the tribunals’ long-term future remains cloudy as the president struggles to fulfill a pledge to close the prison altogether.
The trial for Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born son of an alleged Al Qaeda financier, is expected to begin tomorrow following pretrial hearings. It will be the first trial under Obama and only the third at Guantanamo, where the system that former president George W. Bush established for prosecuting terror suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has faced repeated legal setbacks and challenges.
Khadr is accused of lobbing a grenade that killed US Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy, and spying.
His lawyers deny he threw the grenade and argue that Khadr, the last Westerner at Guantanamo, deserves leniency because he was only 15 when he was captured. They contend the prosecutors’ case rests on confessions extracted following abuse that included sleep deprivation and threats of rape.
Khadr wrote in a May letter to one of his Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, that he was resigned to a harsh sentence from a system that he sees as unfair.
“It might work if the world sees the US sentencing a child to life in prison; it might show the world how unfair and a sham this process is,’’ Khadr said.
The US Supreme Court last week rejected a last-ditch request to halt the trial on grounds that the system is unconstitutional.
In the other case, a military panel will begin deliberations as early as today on a sentence for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, a Sudanese detainee who pleaded guilty last month to one count each of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.
Qosi was accused of acting as accountant, paymaster, supply chief, and cook for Al Qaeda during the 1990s when the terror network was centered in Sudan and Afghanistan. He allegedly worked later as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
The 50-year-old from Sudan faced a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted at trial.
Both detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2002.