Khadr's case raises questions

By Jane Sutton
Sunday, November 13, 2005; 8:45 AM

MIAMI (Reuters) - Canadian-born Omar Khadr stood out among the suspected al Qaeda members who exchanged gunfire with U.S. soldiers at a compound in Afghanistan in 2002 because he was the only one without a beard, an American soldier wounded in the battle said.

Khadr was 15 then and probably couldn't grow one.

When the shooting stopped, he was the only one left alive inside the mud-walled compound. Now a 19-year-old prisoner at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr was charged last Monday with murdering a U.S. soldier and faces trial by a military tribunal. The United States is not seeking the death penalty.

He is believed to be the youngest of the 500 foreign prisoners still at Guantanamo and human rights advocates argue that under the laws of war, he is entitled to special treatment.

"Someone who was 15 at the time of the alleged conduct ought not to fall into the same category as someone who is an adult," said Muneer Ahmad, an American University law professor who is suing the Bush administration in U.S. District Court in Washington for Khadr's release and return to Canada.

Khadr is the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, an al Qaeda financier and close friend of Osama bin Laden who moved his family among Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan and sent his son to al Qaeda training camps to learn how to use guns, grenades, and explosives, the U.S. military said.

The elder Khadr was killed in a shootout with Pakistani security forces in 2003.


The military charged that in July 2002, Omar Khadr conducted surveillance on U.S. convoys near the Afghan city of Khost and planted home-made bombs on the convoy routes.

It charged that during a firefight at an al Qaeda compound near Khost, he threw a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a U.S. special forces soldier trained as a medic.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Layne Morris was blinded in his right eye by grenade shrapnel during the firefight and has agreed to testify against Khadr.

"I understand that he was 15 years old but that was a hardened, dedicated terrorist," Morris said.

Morris said U.S. special forces soldiers and Afghan fighters had gone to check out the compound and two Afghan interpreters were shot to death as they approached.

A battle followed and when the firing stopped, some of the U.S. soldiers went in, believing those inside were dead or had surrendered, Morris said. But instead they found Khadr.

"He popped up from his hiding place and threw a hand grenade and shot his pistol at the troops inside there. The hand grenade was too close to Chris Speer," Morris said.

Khadr was shot several times and the soldiers debated "why should we do anything other than the very least, watch this kid bleed to death," Morris said.

"He's lucky we had a second doctor there. After Omar had killed our first medic, the second one saved his life."


The U.S. Supreme Court agreed last Monday to decide whether President George W. Bush had authority to create the Guantanamo tribunals, which critics charged are stacked to ensure convictions and could allow use of evidence obtained through torture.

Trying someone for actions committed as a juvenile before such a system "does real damage to our reputation as a country," Ahmad said. "It just makes it that much more difficult to ensure human rights and protection of the rights of children when other governments are involved."

He has met with Khadr at Guantanamo and described him as weak, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, blinded in the left eye by shrapnel and still recovering from his gunshot wounds.

He said Khadr went to Afghanistan because his father moved the family there and "he didn't have much choice."

"Generally I think what he would want is to be home and to live a quiet, peaceful, anonymous life," Ahmad said. "I think he'd like to live with his family."

The Canadian government has said little publicly about the case. Dan McTeague, the member of Parliament responsible for citizens abroad, said after the charges were filed that Canada had sought assurances Khadr would not be executed and would be afforded due process and appropriate legal representation.

Morris and Speer's widow and two young children won a default judgment last month in their $10 million federal lawsuit against the estate of Khadr's father.

Morris, who has returned home to Utah and has a 15-year-old son and three other children, said he had no problem with the military's decision not to execute Khadr if he is convicted, but "I think at the very least he needs to be locked up for a long, long time."

© 2005 Reuters