The Collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo Trial

by ANDY WORTHINGTON

Hardly a day goes by without some extraordinary news from the Military Commissions, the system of “terror trials” conceived in the Office of the Vice President in November 2001, and their days now seem to be as numbered as those of the Bush administration itself.

Following the outspoken resignation of former prosecutor Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and the Pentagon’s desperate decision to drop charges against five prisoners to prevent Vandeveld from testifying for the defense, the latest news to rock the Commissions is that the trial of Omar Khadr — a supposedly flagship case, along with that of the Yemeni Salim Hamdan, who received a surprisingly light sentence after a trial this summer — has been delayed until after the administration leaves office.

This is a bitter blow for the government, which has been pushing to prosecute Khadr for war crimes since 2005. Its first attempt failed, when the Supreme Court ruled that the whole enterprise was illegal, but after the Commissions were bandaged up by Congress and resumed their ghoulish existence in 2007, Khadr was once more put forward for trial.

This was in spite of the fact that his tenacious lawyers — both military and civilian — have questioned the very basis of the “war crimes” charges (which essentially transform combatants in war into “terrorists”), and have unearthed evidence (despite systemic obstruction) that Khadr may not have been responsible for the main crime for which he is charged (throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier). Focusing on the fact that Khadr was just 15 years old when he was seized in July 2002, they have also persistently pointed out the cruel folly, injustice and illegality of prosecuting a juvenile for war crimes, when the UN Convention on the rights of children in wartime, to which the US is a signatory, requires juveniles — those under the age of 18 when the alleged crime took place — to be rehabilitated rather than punished.

Last week, in pre-trial hearings, they reprised some of these arguments, and also sought access to seven interrogators, from various intelligence agencies, who, they insist, extracted coerced confessions from Khadr, who was severely wounded, while he was detained in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo. According to the lawyers, the information extracted from Khadr under duress was then used as the basis for interrogations at Guantánamo using more “sterile” and “benign” techniques, in much the same way that the administration has attempted to cover up its torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other “high-value detainees” in secret CIA custody by using “clean teams” of FBI agents to extract new confessions in Guantánamo.

As was revealed in Salim Hamdan’s trial, the prohibition on the use of coerced evidence (which was only introduced after the Commissions’ first incarnation was struck down by the Supreme Court, and is still allowable at the judge’s discretion) may technically satisfy the absolute prohibition on the use of evidence obtained through torture, but it has the knock-on effect of effectively erasing the government’s crimes from the record, while also allowing the authorities to obtain “clean” confessions from abused prisoners in a way that would shame all but the most vile totalitarian regimes.

Last week, Khadr’s judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, deferred a decision on the defense’s motion, but as Judy Rabinovitz, an observer for the American Civil Liberties Union, noted, he “did not appear impressed” by the prosecution’s argument that “there ‘needs to be a showing’ by the defense that coercive interrogation practices were used,” which otherwise were only “speculative.” As Rabinovitz noted, touching on the burning issues of the suppression of evidence vital to the defense, which was highlighted in Mohamed Jawad’s case by Lt. Col. Vandeveld, “This line of argument would not likely succeed in a regular military or civilian criminal court, in which the standard for discovery generally places the burden on the government to give the defense information that may assist the defense.” She added that Col. Parrish was also not impressed by the government’s assertion that even providing information about the seven interrogators, three weeks before the trial’s scheduled start date of November 10, would be an “undue burden” on the government.

However, Col. Parrish’s decision to postpone Khadr’s trial until January 26, five days into the new administration, was prompted in particular by defense complaints about the government’s attempts to obstruct an independent psychiatric examination of their client. Although this was first requested in May, it was challenged and resisted by the government in hearings throughout the summer, and as a result a psychiatric expert met Khadr for the first time on October 13. Requesting a postponement of the trial’s start date, the defense pointed out that the expert would need time to establish a rapport with Khadr, and also argued that the delay in providing Khadr with a psychiatric evaluation was largely the government’s fault. As Judy Rabinovitz explained, even when an independent expert had been approved, the prosecution “delayed in providing her the necessary security clearance, and has also failed to provide the defense with Khadr’s psychiatric records.”

Those who have been pressing for the young Canadian’s release will now be hoping that the Canadian government (which is also a signatory to the UN Convention) will finally discover its spine, and will take advantage of the change of administration to demand his return to Canada, or that the new US government will refuse to proceed with the case. Barack Obama, who voted against the Military Commissions Act that revived the trial system in 2006, has pledged to abolish the Military Commissions, which he regards (along with the use of torture, the shredding of the Geneva Conventions, and the sidelining of the US Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice) as key examples of the Bush administration’s quest for “unchecked presidential power,” and even John McCain, who voted for the legislation, may wish to transfer the ailing system to the mainland, and has already explained that he would repatriate Khadr if asked to do so by the Canadian government.

ANDY WORTHINGTON is a British historian, and the author of ‘The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison’ (published by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk

He can be reached at: andy@andyworthington.co.uk

Your Ad Here

 

 

 


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman