Tuesday, August 24, 2010 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
Omar Khadr’s lawyer is out of hospital, is off painkillers and will be able to go to trial once the Canadian detainee’s Guantanamo Bay hearing resumes.
Dates for the trial, postponed for about a month after Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Jackson collapsed in pain during cross-examination, are still up in the air. But witnesses are being asked to clear their day books as part of the complex scheduling that goes into co-ordinating war-court proceedings at the U.S. naval base.
Stephen Xenakis, the retired brigadier-general and a defence-team physician in close contact with Mr. Khadr, is preparing to make his case before the war tribunal. He hopes to convince the seven-person military jury what military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish didn’t believe: that the now 23-year-old Mr. Khadr endured enough physical and psychological torment to traumatize him and render his testimony unusable.
“The issue of his mental state and his status as a child, all those are essential to this case,” Dr. Xenakis said.
He has been in close touch with Col. Jackson, who was airlifted to Walter Reed military hospital shortly after collapsing in court during the first day of witness cross-examination two weeks ago.
Col. Jackson was out of hospital within 48 hours, Dr. Xenakis said.
“He’s recovering nicely. … I mean, it’s like everything goes wrong with this case. He doesn’t feel good about it.”
The problem originated with gallbladder surgery Col. Jackson had undergone six weeks earlier – a procedure called laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which is a less invasive way to remove gallstones than traditional “open” surgery, but which leaves more room for missed stones.
In the meantime, Dr. Xenakis says he’s been asked for his availability as part of the “nightmare” co-ordination process juggling schedules for witnesses, jurors and the military judge heading up Mr. Khadr’s case.
Dr. Xenakis said he hopes to get to Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible to spend time with Mr. Khadr. “I’m going to keep grinding away at the case, if I can. The more I try and understand his situation, the better.”
Dr. Xenakis and psychologist Kate Porterfield have been enlisted by Mr. Khadr’s defence team to provide evidence about his psychological state – to bolster the defence argument that he’s a damaged young man. That contrasts with the prosecution’s stand that Mr. Khadr, who was 15 when he’s alleged to have killed a U.S. Army sergeant and planted improvised explosive devices, was a terrorist who knew exactly what he was doing.
Dr. Xenakis is still hopeful the defence can make that argument and win over the military panel that now has the power to decide Mr. Khadr’s fate, even after Col. Parrish dismissed that same argument, finding that Mr. Khadr has received “world-class” medical treatment and there’s no evidence he was tortured or that threats of gang rape influenced any future testimony.
But what will be especially difficult once the trial resumes, Dr. Xenakis said, is for Mr. Khadr – who has called the process a “sham” but appeared in court despite threats to boycott proceedings – to make it through often-graphic witness testimony. During the first day of proceedings, court heard from a man – identified only as Sergeant-Major D – who spoke in detail about shooting Mr. Khadr twice in the back as a hostile combatant.
It was only after extensive cajoling from Dr. Xenakis, Dr. Porterfield and his lawyers that Mr. Khadr agreed to appear at all, Dr. Xenakis said. “That’s why we’re down there – to get him to court. Yeah, I was surprised [he showed up]. I was glad that he did.”
“He’s understandably very apprehensive about the process. … And then he’s got to go into court and relive the experiences that happened to him when he was 15 years old. And how many people want to go back to being 15?”