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First Guantánamo military tribunal under Obama gears up

A military judge ruled Monday that statements made by Omar Khadr, who is charged of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan, can be used in the trial, which is set to start Tuesday. Mr. Khadr's lawyers say the statements were coerced.

By Staff writer / August 9, 2010

In this courtroom sketch, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr (l.) attends the first day of his hearing in the courthouse for the US military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba August 9.

Janet Hamlin/Pool/Reuters

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A military judge on Monday ruled that self-incriminating statements made to US interrogators could be admitted as evidence in the war crimes trial of an Al Qaeda operative accused of murdering an American soldier in Afghanistan.

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The ruling came in a special courtroom at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where officials are preparing for the first contested military commission trial of the Obama presidency. It is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Facing trial is Omar Khadr for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that killed a US special forces soldier and partially blinded another after a firefight near Khost, Afghanistan, in July 2002.

Mr. Khadr was 15 years old at the time. He denies throwing the grenade.

His lawyers object to the commission trial, saying that because of his young age at the time of his capture he should be treated as a child soldier who is not fully responsible for his actions.

They also argued that he faced brutal mistreatment and threats of rape by US interrogators and that any statements he made to military officials should not be used against him at trial.

Prosecutors countered that Khadr was not mistreated and that statements he made accepting responsibility for the grenade attack were not coerced.

On Monday, the military judge presiding over the case said Khadr’s statements could be used as evidence at the commission trial.

'Am I an animal?'

Earlier on Monday, in a pretrial hearing, prosecutors presented a video of Khadr surrounded by seven military guards who were trying to weigh him in compliance with requirements of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The prosecutors introduced the video in an attempt to show that Khadr had not been mistreated while in US custody.

Khadr’s lawyer said the video supported his claims of abusive treatment.

According to a Reuters report, Khadr refused to step on the scale and began to cry. “The rules don’t say to capture a kid and deprive him of all his rights … am I an animal,” Khadr asked.

Khadr’s lawyer, US Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson later urged the judge to bar from the trial any statements produced by interrogators in Afghanistan or Guantánamo. “Tell the government that they cannot and will not benefit from someone being threatened with rape and torture,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Military prosecutors have charged Khadr with murder, conspiring with Al Qaeda and providing material support to the terror group. The charges include throwing the hand grenade that killed US Army Sgt. Christopher Speer. Khadr is also charged with the attempted murder of US forces by converting land mines into improvised explosive devices and hiding them along the road. In addition, he is charged with conducting surveillance of US troop movements in Afghanistan.

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