Omar Khadr, a 19-year-old suspected by the US military of recieving al-Qaeda training, addressed the presiding officer at his pre-trial hearing at the US naval base in Cuba, saying: “I say with my respect to you and everybody else here that I am boycotting these procedures until I [am] treated humanely and fair.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Colby Vokey, one of Khadr’s military lawyers, said Khadr, born in Toronto, had been moved to solitary confinement “for no reason” on March 30, making it difficult to prepare a defence.
During a heated exchange with presiding officer Robert Chester, a marine colonel, Vokey shouted and slapped the table. Chester recessed the hearing and asked to see Vokey in private.
The hearing resumed later under protest from defence lawyers. They argued that it was unethical for them to continue against their client’s will. Chester said he would take up the issue later in the week.
“I say with my respect to you and everybody else here that I am boycotting these procedures until I [am] treated humanely and fair”
Khadr is charged with conspiring to commit war crimes and with murdering Christopher Speer, a Sergeant 1st Class in the US army, with a grenade during a firefight at a suspected al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.
In a written statement, a spokesman for the prison camp said that neither Khadr nor any other Guantanamo detainees were held in solitary confinement.
Commander Robert Durand said Khadr had been moved from a medium-security camp, where prisoners live in groups, to a maximum-security building where they live in individual cells but can still communicate with one another.
Durand also said the move was routine for those in pre-trial status and “largely for the protection of the detainee”.
The US Supreme Court is looking
A heated exchange came during a day-long hearing where defence lawyers complained repeatedly about rules they said were unclear, unfair and not based on any legal framework.
It began when Vokey questioned who had the authority to grant Khadr’s request for a Canadian lawyer to join the defence team. Chester said he would decide if he had that authority once Vokey made the request in writing.
“There’s no precedent here,” Vokey said. “I don’t know what rule to look to. I don’t know what law to look to.”
The US army claims Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an al-Qaeda financier and close friend of Osama bin Laden and moved his family between Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan and also sent his son to a training camp to learn how to use guns, grenades and explosives.
In 2003, the elder Khadr was killed in a shootout with Pakistani security forces.
Khadr was 15 when he was captured. His lawyers believe that trying him for crimes allegedly committed as a juvenile violates international law. If convicted, Khadr would face life in prison.
So far, only 10 of the 490 Guantanamo detainees have been charged with war crimes. Khadr is one of four scheduled for pre-trial hearings this week. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to the legitimacy of the tribunals last month and is expected to make a judgment by July.