Omar Khadr trial suspended after opening arguments

The military trial of Canadian Guantánamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr was suspended Aug. 13, following the collapse of his lawyer during opening testimony. The lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, was airlifted to mainland medical facilities following the collapse, which is attributed to complications from gall bladder surgery. Jackson is Khadr’s only lawyer, and is the only member of his defense team authorized to address the court. Due to his absence, the trial may be suspended until October.

The collapse came during opening arguments Aug. 12, in which prosecutors argued that Khadr was a willing al-Qaeda operative who had adopted their ideology as his own. Prosecutors introduced video allegedly depicting Khadr making an explosive in Afghanistan and argued that he had proudly confessed to being a member of al-Qaeda and to killing a US soldier during his interrogation by US forces. Jackson countered that Khadr was a victim of his father, alleged al-Qaeda financier Ahmed Said Khadr, who had taken his son with him to Afghanistan shortly after the US-led invasion. Jackson stated that Khadr’s confession was not reliable because it came only after Khadr was told a story of an uncooperative detainee that was imprisoned and raped during incarceration. The trial was conducted with a seven member jury made up of US military officers. Khadr faces a life sentence if convicted.

The trial began Aug. 10 with jury selection after Khadr pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and terrorism for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and injured another when he was 15. UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy criticized the proceedings, arguing the trial would set a dangerous precedent for child soldiers worldwide. She explained that “[c]hild soldiers must be treated primarily as victims and alternative procedures should be in place aimed at rehabilitation or restorative justice.”

The trial has also been criticized by Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire (L-QC), who has questioned the legitimacy of the proceedings. US military judge Army Colonel Patrick Parrish ruled Aug. 9 that the video and confession were admissible at trial. On Aug. 6, the US Supreme Court refused to block the trial, and last month, the US District Court for the District of Columbia refused to lift the stay on his habeas corpus petition pending the conclusion of the trial.

From Jurist, Aug. 13. Used with permission.