“What you saw puts a lie to the long-standing argument by some that Omar Khadr is a victim … He’s not. He is a murderer and he is convicted by the strength of his own words.”
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Eight years after he was taken to Guantanamo as a teenage prisoner, a Canadian pleaded guilty Monday to killing a U.S. Army sergeant during a battle in Afghanistan, in a deal that will send him home in a year to serve his sentence.
Defenders say Omar Khadr, who was 15 at the time of his capture, was a “child soldier” pushed into becoming an al-Qaida fighter by his father, an associate of Osama bin Laden.
The plea deal ends a widely criticized trial that made the United States the first Western nation since World War II to prosecute a child offender for alleged war crimes. The exact terms were not immediately disclosed, but Khadr’s sentence was reportedly capped at eight years, in addition to time already spent at the Guantanamo detention camp.
The now 24-year-old prisoner, who was seriously wounded when he was seized in a gunbattle in 2002, admitted to throwing a grenade that killed a special forces medic during a fierce raid on an al-Qaida compound. He also pleaded guilty to building and planting roadside bombs and receiving weapons training from al-Qaida. He is the last Western detainee at Guantanamo.
The Toronto-born Khadr’s trial had been scheduled to start Monday and he faced a possible life sentence.
The chief military prosecutor, Navy Capt. John F. Murphy, said the government welcomed the deal, which was initiated by the defense, because it removes any doubt about Khadr’s guilt.
“What you saw puts a lie to the long-standing argument by some that Omar Khadr is a victim,” Murphy told reporters in an aircraft hangar near the courthouse on the U.S. base in Cuba. “He’s not. He is a murderer and he is convicted by the strength of his own words.”
Khadr did not explain why he changed his plea, though Dennis Edney, one of his Canadian attorneys, said it was a “very, very difficult” decision made only because Canada agreed to repatriate him after a year.
It came down to a choice between a trial his lawyers called “illegal” trial and going home — and he chose the latter, Edney said. […]
Khadr was charged with murder in the death of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a special forces medic from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The U.S. says the Canadian is a war criminal because was not a legitimate soldier. He also faced charges of spying, material support for terrorism, conspiracy and attempted murder. […]
Another soldier who was blinded in one eye during the firefight said he was pleased Khadr admitted guilt but is concerned the Canadian may not serve a sufficiently long sentence. Several Canadian media outlets, citing anonymous sources, have reported he would serve one year at Guantanamo and seven in his native country.
“It’s way too short but I think you probably couldn’t give him a sentence that I thought was too long,” said Layne Morris, a retired Army sergeant who now lives in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. “We have put him on a track to freedom in the prime of his life.”