By Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Neve is currently at Guantánamo to observe the military commission trial against detainee Omar Khadr. This is the fourth post in his series from the field.
12 August 2010
In a case that has moved so slowly for so long – it is now nearly five years since Omar Khadr was first charged under the Bush administration – much happened during the first day of his military commission trial here at Guantánamo, both expected and unexpected. Proceedings began with opening statements from the prosecution and defence. They ended in drama when Omar Khadr’s military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, collapsed in court late in the afternoon while cross examining a witness. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and as I write it is uncertain when the trial will resume.
Earlier the commission heard from two prosecution witnesses and viewed a video that US forces had retrieved from the compound in Afghanistan where the firefight took place that is at the heart of the case against Omar Khadr. It is there that, as a 15-year-old, he is alleged to have thrown a grenade that fatally wounded a US soldier, Sergeant Christopher Speer. Among those present in the courtroom today, for the first time, was the widow of Sgt Speer.
For the prosecution, Jeffrey Groharing began by wheeling in a scale model of the compound where the firefight took place. He alleged that Omar Khadr had told one of his interrogators that he was a “terrorist, trained by al-Qa’ida” and that what he was most proud of was carrying out attacks against Americans. He alleged that Omar Khadr had deliberately decided to conspire with members of al-Qa’ida to kill as many US soldiers as possible. When it came to the question of statements and confessions obtained during the teenager’s interrogations at the US air base in Bagram in Afghanistan and subsequently in Guantánamo, the prosecutor insisted that they were the result of friendly conversations between the detainee and his interrogators and that all were freely and voluntarily given. He made no reference to Omar Khadr’s young age when these interrogations took place.
In his opening statement for the defence, Lt Col Jackson portrayed Omar Khadr as a scared child in the company of “three bad men” on 27 July 2002 when the firefight occurred. He blamed Omar Khadr’s late father for the fact that Omar Khadr was there in the first place, adding that “Omar’s father hated his enemies more than he loved his son”. [Editor’s note: Members of the Khadr family, including Omar, are believed to have moved to Afghanistan when he was 11 years old. According to the Miami Herald on 12 August 2010, the prosecutor said in his opening statement that Omar Khadr had grown up in a family of “radical Islamists” and had “even lived with Osama bin Laden in an al-Qa’ida compound in Afghanistan”].