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U.S. military judge threatens to suspend Khadr trial over evidence issues

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - A U.S. military judge threatened to suspend the war-crimes trial of a Canadian detainee, scolding the government Thursday for failing to provide records of his confinement at Guantanamo.


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - A U.S. military judge threatened to suspend the war-crimes trial of a Canadian detainee, scolding the government Thursday for failing to provide records of his confinement at Guantanamo.

Lawyers for Omar Khadr say details of his interrogations and mental health could provide grounds to suppress self-incriminating statements at the U.S. navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

At a pretrial hearing, Judge Peter Brownback, a U.S. army colonel, criticized the prosecution team led by marine Maj. Jeffrey Groharing for demanding an expedited trial despite failing to obtain the documents from the detention centre.

"I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date," Brownback said. "To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done."

His frustration highlights the duelling interests of two military entities at Guantanamo: the tribunal system, which airs the backgrounds of terror suspects in detail, and the Joint Task Force that runs the prison and tightly restricts information about inmates whom officials describe as some of America's most dangerous enemies.

Brownback said he understands the military's worry that the documents might identify prison officials who fear retribution. But he ordered the government to provide the records of Khadr's day-to-day confinement by May 22, in complete or edited form, or he will suspend proceedings.

The Toronto-born Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15 and was taken to Guantanamo four months later. In a sworn affidavit, he said he was threatened with rape and left short-shackled to a bolt in the floor for as long as six hours. He claims he was so scared that he told interrogators what they wanted to hear.

Khadr is accused of lobbing a grenade that killed army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in eastern Afghanistan. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges including murder, conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

His Pentagon-appointed lawyer, navy Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, said he believes Khadr's treatment at Guantanamo was designed to prevent him from recanting a false confession that he made under coercion at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

"He was essentially punished for not co-operating with interrogators while at Guantanamo Bay," Kuebler said.

Failure to produce the documents could derail what was likely to be one of the first trials of a terror suspect at Guantanamo, where the United States holds about 270 men on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Military prosecutors say they plan to prosecute as many as 80 of the suspects.

A spokeswoman for the detention centre, navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, said officials expect to receive guidance soon from the Defense Department that will allow them to "fully support all requests for access to and release of information."

The judge could eventually dismiss the case if the military does not deliver the documents, said air force Maj. Gail Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon office overseeing the tribunals.

But Kuebler said that possibility is unlikely. He has urged Canada to demand Khadr's repatriation to spare him a trial he says is guaranteed to produce a conviction.

 
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