Khadr hearing still on despite requests for delay


The Canadian Press

January 17, 2009 at 12:37 PM EST

TORONTO — The U.S. military commission proceedings against Omar Khadr at its infamous Guantanamo Bay prison remained on life support Saturday after a military judge nixed a joint request by both defence and prosecution to delay hearings until incoming U.S. president Barack Obama takes office on Tuesday.

Colonel Patrick Parrish's decision late Friday evening came despite the unusual joint plea to call off the military commission proceedings in the “interests of justice.”

“Prosecutors' unexpected agreement to the defence requests signals a clear recognition that the commissions are about to be stopped,” said Lieutenant-Commander Bill Kuebler, Mr. Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer.

Military officials were playing a game of ‘hot potato' in “a final charade before president-elect Obama puts an end to the sham Guantanamo tribunals,” he said.

The developments come amid a flurry of activity surrounding the internationally, and increasingly domestically, condemned military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

About 250 “enemy combatants” and suspected terrorists, including Mr. Khadr, remain incarcerated.

Mr. Khadr is due to be in a courtroom on Monday, where he is expected to be charged again with war crimes.

In recent days, senior Pentagon official Susan Crawford, who heads the military commission system, admitted a detainee had been tortured and said she assumed others had been as well.

That would make any confessions inadmissible by any normal legal standard.

Mr. Obama's pick for attorney general, Eric Holder, said this past week the commissions have failed to afford due process.

The Toronto-born Mr. Khadr, 22, has been held at Guantanamo Bay for more than six years on charges he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002 when he was just 15.

Documents have revealed he was subject to severe abuse, such as sleep deprivation and being held in stress positions.

Another senior Pentagon official, Air Force Colonel Peter Masciola who is acting as the chief commission defence lawyer, called on Ms. Crawford to stop the proceedings and withdraw charges in the 14 cases facing the commission.

“The perception of pervasive torture now saddles the incoming administration and its efforts to set these proceedings on a just course,” Col. Masciola wrote on Friday.

“There is only one way to begin changing that perception, and also the reality, of fundamental injustice: Withdraw the referrals now.”

Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said that pressing ahead against Mr. Khadr on Monday with what he called a “failed” experiment made no sense.

“Everyone (is) wondering why the government intends to move dozens of witnesses, military personnel, and even family members of 9/11 victims to Guantanamo for a week of hearings,” Lt.-Cmdr. Kuebler said.

“(It serves) no purpose other than interrupting the lives of dozens of witnesses and needlessly spending taxpayer dollars.”

Lawyers for the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators also filed a similar request in which prosecutors in that case joined, also to no avail.