Time Running Out for Omar Khadr

Time is running out for Omar Khadr, his Military Commission trial will finally get underway on August 10th and it is likely to be completed within two weeks.

We don’t anticipate a very edifying spectacle. Khadr fired his hopelessly outclassed civilian defense attorneys last month and is refusing to participate any further in the proceedings. As he explained in a letter to the court:

“It is going to be the same thing with or without lawyers. It’s going to be a life sentence.”

It is hardly a surprise that after eight years of delay and prevarication, rule changes and procedural challenges, Khadr has no faith in the genuine independence of the military commission process. Few international observers do.

Omar Khadr was taken into US custody when he was 15 years old on 27 July 2002 in Afghanistan. On the right is a picture of him after being detained for eight years.

The case against Khadr is a weak one. There are no eyewitnesses to the primary

incident and the only real evidence against him are statements obtained from him under duress and a videotape of him apparently helping to plant an IED. It is not clear whether the tape is of a training exercise or an actual attack.

The judge in the case is still refusing to consider whether incriminating statements made by Khadr after his capture were obtained through torture – hardly a fanciful claim since his interrogator was actually convicted in a US court martial of abusing another detainee in the same facility.

Khadr’s remaining–military–attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, has petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the propriety of the US government maintaining in essence a separate legal system for US non-citizens. US citizens charged with terrorist offenses are directed to the federal courts not military commissions. As Lt. Col. Jackson notes: “separate is always unequal.”

Finally, perhaps most egregious of all, Khadr is being tried as an adult despite the fact that he was only fifteen when the alleged offenses he is accused of occurred. Under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which the United States is a signatory, Khadr should properly be considered a child soldier.


Observing the Trial of Omar Khadr

By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.  Neve is currently at Guantánamo to observe the military commissions proceedings against detainee Omar Khadr.  This is his second in a series of posts from the field.

Photo: Alex Neve at Guantánamo Bay

Photo: Alex Neve at Guantánamo Bay

Omar Khadr’s case has been in the military commission pipeline for several years – he was first charged in November 2005 under the system thrown out the following year by the US Supreme Court.  His case has had various false starts under a variety of different versions of the military commission process.

His case has been slated to come up before the latest version of military commissions for months.  Lawyers, journalists, observers, government and military officials have arrived – anticipating that key legal issues were finally going to get an airing.  All this lead time; all this preparation – you would at least expect everything to be in place.

But there is no confidence at all that things are going to get off to a smooth start.  One key piece of the equation that is missing is the set of rules to govern the military commission process under legislation passed in late 2009.  Under the revised Military Commissions Act (MCA), signed by President Obama last October, the Secretary of Defense was supposed to submit to Congress within 90 days the rules for military commissions – that is, the Manual for Military Commissions.  At the moment, the only manual that has been available is a 2007 version under the 2006 MCA.


Update: Leonard Peltier Denied Parole

To our deep disappointment, Leonard Peltier was denied parole on Friday, nearly a month after his July 28 parole hearing. In addition to our online action, Amnesty International had sent an open letter to the parole board in early July urging that Peltier be granted parole, and Amnesty continues to call for his immediate release on parole. You can read more about Leonard’s case in this blog post, and in the full AI press relase. The US Department of Justice also issued a lengthy press release on Friday.

Mexico: Merida Funds Must be Withheld Until Human Rights Conditions Are Met

Amnesty International today urged the US Congress to honor its commitment to withhold 15% of funding of the Merida Initiative until the Mexican government fulfils its human rights obligations. The Mexican government has failed to make sufficient progress in the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses by security forces. According to the Washington Post, Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, is well aware of the grave human rights situation in Mexico, and does not intend to allow the transfer to go forward if things do not improve.

The Merida Initiative is security co-operation and assistance program through which the USA provides Mexico and Central America with equipment, training and technical assistance to support law enforcement operations. In June 2008, the US Congress stipulated that 15% of the funds to be provided by the US to Mexico in the context of the Merida Initiative must be subject to key human rights conditions, including:

  • Human rights violations perpetrated by military and police personnel to be investigated, prosecuted and tried by civilian prosecutors and judges;
  • Confessions obtained under torture or ill treatment not to be used in the justice system;
  • Civil society to be regularly consulted to make recommendations regarding the fulfilment of the Merida Initiative;
  • Improvement of transparency and accountability of the police force, and establishment of an independent mechanism to denounce abuses.

In addition to a State Department report on the broader human rights situation in Mexico, the US Congress also requested information on the investigation of the killing of US videojournalist Brad Will, whose case Amnesty has worked on for some time. The investigation of Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) led to the arrest of man in October 2008. However, the evidence on which the prosecution is based has been disproved by extensive forensic studies carried out by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and Physicians for Human Rights. As the time for the approval of Merida Initiative funding approached, the PGR commissioned a team of Canadian experts to carry out a new forensic report. The report, which has no legal standing in the criminal case, was leaked in July 2009 to the press and confirmed, in an almost word-by-word fashion the conclusions of the PGR. Both the CNDH and Physicians for Human Rights have stated that the report has no scientific validity, and Brad Will’s family has issued a statement denouncing the biased PGR investigation.

Given the situation of Brad Will’s case, the continued impunity of those responsible for other serious human rights violations, and the alarming escalation of reports of new abuses, additional US aid would only make things worse. Let’s hope Mexico takes notice and makes some big changes.

Parole Hearing for Leonard Peltier

Update: As we await the results of Leonard Peltier’s parole hearing, it is still possible to take action on his behalf. The online action has a mailing address, fax number, and sample letter. You can print out the letter from the online action page, and then mail or fax it in. Help demand parole for Leonard Peltier!

Anishinabe-Lakota Native American Leonard Peltier, a federal prisoner serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in 1975, is scheduled for a parole hearing before the US Parole Commission on 28 July 2009 (Federal prisoners serving life sentences in the USA can apply for parole). There are serious questions about the evidence on which Peltier was convicted and concerns remain over the fairness of the legal proceedings which led to Leonard Peltier’s extradition from Canada and subsequent trial. Amnesty International, having campaigned on Leonard Peltier’s behalf for many years, believes that he should be granted parole. The deadline for public comment on his case is July 14th.

Leonard Peltier, a leading member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an organization which seeks to promote and uphold Native American Indian rights, was convicted in 1977 of shooting dead FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Peltier does not deny that he was present during the incident. However, he does deny killing the agents by firing on them at close range, as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.

The only alleged eyewitness to the shootings was Myrtle Poor Bear, a Lakota Native woman who lived at Pine Ridge. On the basis of her statements that she had seen Leonard Peltier kill Williams and Coler, Peltier was extradited from Canada, where he fled following the shootings. However, Myrtle Poor Bear retracted her testimony in 1977. In a public statement issued by Myrtle Poor Bear in 2000, she said that her original testimony was a result of months of threats and harassment from FBI agents.

The US Parole Commission has held a number of parole hearings on Peltier’s case. However, it has always denied parole on the grounds that Peltier did not accept criminal responsibility for the murders of the two FBI agents. This is despite the fact that, after one such hearing, the Commission acknowledged that, “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that you personally participated in the executions of two FBI agents.”

Don’t forget: deadline for public comment on his case is July 14th (tomorrow). Take action now to demand parole for Leonard Peltier!