|Obama has failed to close the Guantanamo detention centre despite pledging to do so by January 2010 [GALLO/GETTY]|
A Canadian prisoner in Guantanamo Bay has pleaded guilty to killing an American soldier while he was a young teenager as part of a deal that will allow him to avoid a war crimes trial.
Omar Khadr on Monday pleaded guilty to five charges, including murder, for throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. He was just 15 at the time of the incident, which occurred during a fierce firefight at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan.
Khadr, now 24, also admitted to planting improvised explosive devices and receiving weapons training from al-Qaeda. His defence lawyers say that because Khadr was a child when the offences occurred, he should not be tried for war-crimes.
The exact terms of the plea deal were not immediately disclosed, but Khadr is due to be sentenced by a military jury in several days. The sentence they impose is bound by the plea deal.
Khadr would be allowed to trasfer back to his native Canada after serving a year of his sentence as part of the deal, the military judge in charge of the case said.
The US has argued that Khadr, who was badly wounded during the fighting, is a war criminal because he was not a regular solider. But his case has long outraged opponants to Guantanamo, who say he was a child soldier and was subjected to mistreatment while in US custody.
John Terrett, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Washington DC, said that the proceedings against Khadr are unprecedented. “In many ways this whole thing has been a trial of firsts and onlys,” he said.
“He’s the only Canadian citizen in Guantanamo and he’s the only child soldier- He was arrested at the age of 15. He has pled guilty to all five charges against, and it has become that this trial is coming to a plea-bargain end.”
Khadr’s defence team say he was pushed into fighting the US by his father, said to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Human rights defenders have criticised Barack Obama, the US president, for seeking to prosecute Khadr.
“It’s particularly galling that a president who promised to restore human rights is beginning the first trial here with a child soldier who was abused for years in US custody and was taken to a war zone by his dad,” Jennifer Turner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who is at Guantanamo to observe proceedings against Khadr, said.
Many of Obama’s supporters have been angered by his failure to close Guantanamo, despite promising to do so in his campaign and ordering the government to do so as one of his first acts as president.
Around 170 prisoners are still being held at Guantanamo. Congressional opposition to its closure, and difficulty in finding countries to take the men held there, has stalled Obama’s plan to close the prison.