Omar Khadr is wearing a suit and a tie for the first time in his life. He stands up and smiles at the jury and says hello.
Its 9:30am, the official start of his trial. The room is very cold, in contrast to the tropical humid Cuban weather outside court room number 1. Judge Colonel Patrick Parish has a calm tone of voice, he is often sarcastic but always firm.
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, Khadr’s military lawyer, and Dennis Edney, a family legal advisor, accompany the youngest detainee in Guantanamo. Jackson is starting the process of jury selection. The military jury will determine if his client is guilty and also the sentence he should serve.
During jury selection, Jackson tries to start a conversation with the 15 panel members, all military personnel, asking them if they have children or if their parents are strict. He asks if they’ve ever sat in an airplane next to an Arab and felt like the person would take over the plane, and then adds, “if you did don’t worry, this has happened to me too”.
He reminds the potential jurors that pictures and videos can be taken out of context and he asks them to judge based on facts and not emotions. He wants them to view Omar Khadr as a teenager who got into a complicated situation without knowing what he was doing. The US government says he is a committed al-Qaeda fighter.
“Omar Khadr thinks this is his home, sometimes I have to remind him that it is not”, his legal advisor Dennis Edney once said. Indeed Khadr has spent so long in this prison, that the outside world is probably more foreign to him now than the cells in the detainee camps of Guantanamo where he grew up among adults.
The teenager, once seen on video crying for his mother to a Canadian intelligence officer, is now a 23-year-old bearded man. Some say he is polite and gentle, others that he’s a rebellious detainee who shouts extremist slurs at prison guards. He talks to his family in Canada on the phone once every three months and is allowed to write letters, he always promises them he will be back home for the Muslim festivity of Eid ul-Fitr.
Yesterday he kept reading a World Cup magazine inside the court room and barely looked up at the judge or the witnesses. His feet shook under the table he was wearing a white tunic. He has appeared in court intermittently for more than three years, has had two different teams of lawyers, ultimately firing the last one, and has undergone more than 100 interrogations.
Psychologists and neurologists have interviewed him in hopes of finding out exactly what his mental state is. While he was still a teenager he faced death in an airstrike that left him blind in one eye and he says he’s endured torture and threats of rape from military interrogators.
His military commission trial has begun.