Khadr’s move throws his hearings into doubt

Monday, July 12, 2010 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL STATION, CUBA — In a putty-coloured air-traffic-centre-turned-courtroom Monday morning, the fate of Omar Khadr’s military trial, and the evidence the prosecution can present, will be up to Omar Khadr and his judge.

Military Justice Colonel Patrick Parrish will call on the Canadian charged with terrorism to confirm a statement he submitted Wednesday firing the American lawyers who have been conducting his defence at the military tribunal here.

That could leave the 23-year-old, who was 15 and severely wounded when U.S. forces apprehended him in Afghanistan and charged him with murder and supporting terrorism, to fend for himself in court.

But Col. Parrish is also expected to ask Mr. Khadr whether he wants to proceed with his defence team’s attempt to suppress evidence they have spent months arguing was elicited through torture.

If that motion dies, it could mean attempts to hold back that testimony, formally argued in several days of hearings earlier this year and the subject of multiple assessments of Mr. Khadr’s psychological state, are over.

Col. Parrish could decide to weigh what’s been presented to him so far, and disallow evidence he deems inadmissible. He could also oblige Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Jackson, Mr. Khadr’s military-appointed defence lawyer, to remain the Canadian’s legal counsel. But Mr. Khadr has the prerogative to refuse any defence he doesn’t want, and he wouldn’t be the first Guantanamo detainee to decide he wants as little as possible to do with the naval base’s military tribunals. Several people charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks made similar moves regarding their defence lawyers.

Mr. Khadr “thinks it’s an unfair process and he doesn’t want to play any more,” says Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyers. Mr. Whitling and Dennis Edney continue to represent Mr. Khadr in Canada, and have argued numerous times for Ottawa to repatriate him.

But Mr. Whitling acknowledges that if Col. Parrish decides to proceed with the August trial, and if Mr. Khadr refuses a defence counsel, the defendant will be at the mercy of a prosecution team that has portrayed him as a willing jihadist fully aware of what he was doing.

“It’s going to make it even more farcical if there’s no defence,” Mr. Whitling said.

Mr. Khadr’s written submission Wednesday firing his American legal team wasn’t the first time his defence lawyers have been canned: Barry Coburn and Kobie Flowers are among about a dozen people who have represented the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr since he was first charged.

It throws into doubt not only his legal representation but also the status of his trial, which was supposed to begin Aug. 10 after years of pretrial hearings.

Mr. Khadr was 15 in 2002 when prosecutors allege he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in an Afghan firefight. He remains the only person facing such a charge. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

Monday is also the federal government’s deadline to respond to a Supreme Court ruling from last week that gave it seven days to come up with a list of ways it was moving to remedy the abrogation of Mr. Khadr’s rights the court finds Ottawa caused.

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