Selection of Gitmo trial jury under way
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba | A smiling Omar Khadr appeared in a suit and tie Tuesday and greeted prospective jurors at the start of his trial, billed by defense lawyers as the first war-crimes prosecution of a child soldier since World War II.
The trial will be watched closely as the first under President Obama, whose administration is weighing whether to use the embattled Guantanamo courts as a possible venue for dozens of other detainees — including “high-value” figures such as the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and four purported henchmen.
The Khadr case has been held up by legal wrangling at several versions of the tribunal system since he made his first appearance in the courthouse overlooking the Caribbean Sea in 2006.
The Canadian, now a bearded and broad-shouldered man of 23, traded his typical prison jumpsuit for a gray suit before the start of jury selection. As his Pentagon-appointed attorney introduced him to the pool of 15 U.S. military officers, Mr. Khadr stood and said to them in English: “How are you?”
Defense lawyers and prosecutors spent much of the day asking prospective jurors their opinions on matters including the significance of a juvenile offender’s age and the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Once a panel of at least five officers is seated, opening arguments are planned for Wednesday in a trial expected to last roughly three weeks.
Defense lawyers say Mr. Khadr was himself a victim, forced into war by a family with close ties to Osama bin Laden. His father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen and reputed militant killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al Qaeda operatives.
“He’s not a real Taliban warrior. He’s a kid who was put in an unfortunate situation,” said Dennis Edney, a Canadian attorney for Mr. Khadr.
Mr. Khadr faces a total of five charges, including murder in the killing of Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., after a battle at an al Qaeda compound on July 27, 2002. Military prosecutors say he also planted explosive devices to kill coalition forces and spied on U.S. troops.
He has pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.
Meanwhile, a formal conviction is imminent for another detainee, al Qaeda cook Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, who reached a plea agreement with military prosecutors.
Details of the plea bargain with the 50-year-old from Sudan were sealed as part of the deal, but will be revealed eventually following an official review, said Navy Capt. David Iglesias, a prosecution spokesman.