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Canadian's Guantanamo plea makes him war criminal
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba |
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Canadian captive Omar Khadr pleaded guilty on Monday to all five terrorism charges against him in the U.S. war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in a deal that will send him home to serve the rest of his sentence in a year.
Khadr, who was 15 and gravely wounded when captured during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002, admitted he conspired with al Qaeda and killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade.
Terms of the 24-year-old Toronto native's plea deal were not immediately disclosed, but it reportedly capped his sentence at eight years, in addition to the eight years he has already spent at the Guantanamo detention camp.
The United States and Canada exchanged diplomatic notes assuring that Khadr would be returned to Canada in one year to serve the rest of his sentence there, Khadr's lawyers said.
A spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon acknowledged the guilty plea and said, "This matter is between Mr. Khadr and the U.S. government. We have no further comment."
A jury of seven U.S. military officers will hear testimony on Tuesday about the impact of Khadr's actions and then impose a sentence. If their sentence differs from that in the plea agreement, Khadr will serve whichever is shorter. By pleading guilty, he waived his right to appeal.
The deal ended a widely criticized trial that made the United States the first nation since World War Two to prosecute someone in a war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile. Khadr's lawyers argued unsuccessfully that he was a child soldier who should be rehabilitated rather than prosecuted.
Khadr could have faced life in prison if convicted on all counts during a contested trial.
He wore a dark gray suit and neatly trimmed beard for his hearing in the hilltop courtroom that he first entered four and a half years ago as a pimple-faced teenager.
Seated at a table beside his U.S. military lawyers and his Canadian attorney, Khadr looked down and held his head. He answered "yes," over and over, admitting his guilt as the judge, Army Colonel Patrick Parrish, went over the charges.
Khadr admitted he threw the grenade that killed U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer during a firefight at an al Qaeda compound near the Afghan city of Khost in 2002.
Speer's widow, Tabitha Speer, sat in the front row of the courtroom, crying and holding her sister's hand as Khadr made the admission.
Khadr admitted he conspired with al Qaeda to carry out terrorist attacks, spied on U.S. convoys and made and planted roadside bombs targeting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
"What you saw puts a lie to the long-standing lie by some that Omar Khadr is a victim. He's not. He's murderer and he's convicted by the strength of his own words," Navy Captain John Murphy, the tribunals' chief prosecutor, said afterward.
Khadr's Canadian lawyers said he pleaded guilty because it was the only way out of "this hellhole" and questioned why the United States would agree to let him go home if he really was an al Qaeda terrorist and murderer.
Canadian attorney Dennis Edney said there was no evidence linking Khadr to Speer's death except for confessions obtained in abusive interrogations that would never be admissible in a Canadian court.
Khadr is the second man to plead guilty in the tribunal during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose efforts to close the detention camp have been blocked by Congress. Khadr is the fifth prisoner convicted since the United States established the tribunals to try foreign captives on terrorism charges after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Obama authorized the current tribunals in 2009, revising a 2006 version that Congress enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as illegal the original version authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Human rights monitors said the tribunals were still 'a labyrinth of injustice" designed to extract guilty pleas to acts not normally recognized as war crimes.
"That troubling reality, that so many human rights concerns remain untouched and unresolved, hangs over all of this like a dark shadow," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Canada has never sought the repatriation of Khadr, whose father was an al Qaeda financier and Osama bin Laden confidant killed in a shootout with Pakistani police. His mother and several siblings live in the Toronto area.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Paul Simao)
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