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Khadr's fate will be decided by seven jurors

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Eight years after a gravely wounded Canadian teenager was found in the rubble of an Afghan compound, the U.S. government will outline its war-crimes case against him Thursday to seven officers who will decide his fate.

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - Eight years after a gravely wounded Canadian teenager was found in the rubble of an Afghan compound, the U.S. government will outline its war-crimes case against him Thursday to seven officers who will decide his fate.

Among the four men and three women who will sit in judgment on Omar Khadr is a U.S. Navy captain who said Guantanamo Bay has been an international black eye for the country.

Stricken from the panel — at the prosecution request — was an army lieutenant colonel who said the notorious prison had "eroded" the country's moral authority.

In the end, eight of 15 prospective jurors were sent packing Wednesday, almost all after challenges from the defence.

"Today is one of the very few days that has gone in Omar Khadr's favour at Guantanamo Bay," said Alex Neve with Amnesty International.

Under the rules of jury selection, both prosecution and defence were allowed to challenge jurors for cause.

In six of seven cases, the judge sided with Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson who argued the jurors were likely biased against his client.

Juror No. 16, as he was identified, was sent packing at the prosecution request.

"I believe the detainment facility should be closed down," he told prosecutor Jeff Groharing.

"I don't feel my position differs any from the president."

Khadr, 23, faces five charges. The most serious is murder in violation of the rules of war — for which he could face life in prison.

The charge arises out of the death of U.S. Sgt. Chris Speer in Afghanistan in July 2002 when Khadr was 15 years old.

The prosecution alleges the Toronto-born Khadr threw a hand grenade that killed Speer after a four-hour assault by American forces on a compound he was in.

To convict Khadr, at least five of the jurors will need to believe him guilty.

At least six of the seven will need to agree if they want to sentence him to life, as the prosecution has said it will demand if he's convicted.

Details of Khadr's case, familiar to most Canadians and a political football in Canada, are unknown to the jurors.

All said they saw no barrier to trying a 15 year old for war crimes by military commission.

"That was one of the more troubling things we heard consistently from all the jurors," Neve said.

The military commission trial will be the first one contested under President Barack Obama, who pledged 19 months ago to shut the process down.

He also promised to close Guantanamo Bay, which has become a flashpoint of international criticism.

All the jurors were adamant they could give Khadr a fair and impartial hearing, despite the weaker rules of evidence that apply under a military commission proceeding.

"You expect military officers to have integrity," said No. 10, a female army lieutenant-colonel, who will serve on the panel.

Gary Solis, a law professor and retired military judge, said Khadr probably has the fairest panel he could get.

At the same time, he said, Khadr is at a disadvantage.

"The government right now may have a leg up because of rulings on previous days that admitted evidence that will provide a basis for convictions," Solis said.

Those rulings will allow the prosecution to enter as evidence confessions Khadr gave to interrogators. The defence had tried to have them excluded on the basis they were obtained under torture.

One of the defence witnesses is expected to be former army Sgt. Joshua Claus — convicted of detainee abuse — who testified to threatening Khadr with gang rape.

The prosecution will start proceedings Thursday with its opening statement. The defence was given the option of waiting until the prosecution rests before providing its opening arguments.

Wednesday's selection of the panel and challenges proceeded under close scrutiny from a theatre-arts grad hired by the defence as a consultant.

That prompted prosecutor Jeff Groharing to quip after returning from a brief chat with his team during juror questioning:

"I have consultants, as well," Groharing said. "I answer to them."