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U.S. vs. Omar Khadr: Gitmo trial set to start

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The first war-crimes trial of the Obama administration is slated to start this week as Canada's Omar Khadr fights a desperate battle to stave off a possible life behind bars.

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The first war-crimes trial of the Obama administration is slated to start this week as Canada's Omar Khadr fights a desperate battle to stave off a possible life behind bars.

Just 15 when taken into custody for the crimes of which he stands accused, the now 23-year-old Khadr finds himself in the cross-hairs of the American War on Terror.

"Omar has a lot of anxiety," Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, said Sunday.

"He's nervous — I'm nervous and my life is not on trial — but he is ready for this to end."

The start of the trial with the seating of a jury comprising military officers is now expected on Tuesday and opening statements on Wednesday, defence and prosecutors said.

Khadr's Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, said Col. Patrick Parrish, the presiding judge, had refused to delay the trial because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts Wednesday.

As a Muslim, Khadr will be fasting during the day during Ramadan.

"I would like Omar Khadr to cry from the heavens ... what a hellish place this is and how he's been abused," Edney said.

Edney said he had no doubt Khadr will be found guilty through a "contaminated" process after a "mock trial."

The court will first consider several pretrial motions filed by an emaciated defence, now comprising only Jackson.

Khadr recently fired his American civilian advocates and may yet decide to boycott the hearings or even end up representing himself.

Among pretrial motions expected Monday — all bluntly opposed by the prosecution — is one calling for lower-key security in the courtroom to avoid inferences of guilt.

And Jackson will be making a final pitch to have incriminating evidence deemed inadmissible on the grounds it was obtained by torture or other abuse.

The prosecution insists Khadr, now 23, was always properly treated during eight years in custody.

Duelling experts are expected to testify at trial as to Khadr's mental health.

Captured in July, 2002 in Afghanistan, Khadr was found horrifically wounded in the rubble of a bombed-out compound following a four-hour assault by U.S. forces.

The prosecution maintains he threw a hand grenade that killed U.S. special forces Sgt. Chris Speer.

For that, Khadr is charged with murder in violation of the rules of war.

He also faces charges of attempted murder, conspiracy, supporting terrorism and spying.

The trial comes 19 months after incoming U.S. President Barack Obama promised to close the notorious prison at this naval base on leased Cuban territory and end the much maligned military commission process.

"Instead, President Obama has decided to write the next sad pathetic chapter in the book of military commissions," said Jackson, who met a shackled Khadr on Sunday.

"Forever, Obama's military commissions will be remembered as starting with a case against a child soldier."

United Nations organizations and international human-rights groups have warned the case sets an unwelcome precedent.

Prosecution spokesman, Capt. Dave Iglesias, rejected the notion that Khadr was a child soldier and deserves special treatment.

"It's legally irrelevant," Iglesias said.

"The U.S. government prosecutes underage individuals all the time."

The government would press for a life-sentence if he's convicted, Iglesias said.

Last month, Khadr denounced the process as a "sham." He said he had rejected a plea agreement that would have seen him get a 30-year sentence, with 25 of the years to be served in Canada.

While the case has not attracted widespread public scrutiny in the U.S., it has aroused political and legal passions in Canada.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has steadfastly refused calls from the opposition and legal groups to press for Khadr's repatriation.

The government has also, according to a recent Federal Court decision, defied Canada's Supreme Court by refusing to do something meaningful to make amends for breaching his charter rights when Canadian security agents interviewed him in Guantanamo Bay.

"It's particularly disgraceful that his (Khadr's) case is still going ahead even though we had all of the promises from President Obama," said Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International in Canada.

"Add to that the Canadian national disgrace of the fact that our own government ... will not recognize or acknowledge that he has that (child-soldier) status."

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court, which had ruled a previous version of the military commissions illegal, refused an emergency stay of Khadr's trial requested by the defence.

 
 
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