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MIAMI (Reuters) - A military lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to halt next week's Guantanamo trial of a young Canadian captured in Afghanistan, pending a ruling on the legality of the war crimes court that could imprison him for life.
Omar Khadr, now 23, was 15 years old when he was captured in a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002. He is scheduled to go to trial at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base on August 10 on charges that include conspiring to commit terrorism and murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during the battle.
Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, contends the 2009 law underpinning the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals is unconstitutional because it created a second-class court system that applies only to non-U.S. citizens.
"From the outset, the law of war has applied to Americans and aliens alike, because its rationale has been that reciprocity with regard to the enemy is the best and only legal guarantee that war will not descend to barbarism on either side," Jackson wrote in court documents filed on Monday.
In March, he filed an emergency motion asking a Washington federal court to halt Khadr's trial but that court has yet to rule and Jackson asked the Supreme Court to step in.
"The potential harm to petitioner is enormous -- subjection to a trial on a potential life sentence that is entirely illegitimate ... (he) should not even have been charged, much less tried," Jackson wrote.
Toronto-born Khadr is the youngest among the 176 men held at Guantanamo, and the last remaining citizen of a Western nation at the detention camp for terrorist suspects. His trial would be the first war crimes tribunal since World War Two to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile.
Prosecutors have argued that Khadr is trying to make a mockery of justice by repeatedly seeking delays. The charges against him were first filed in 2005 and have been dropped and reinstated several times amid legal challenges and revisions to the Guantanamo tribunals.
If the trial goes forward, a military judge would have to determine whether Khadr's statements to interrogators were obtained through torture and cruelty, and whether they can be used as evidence against him.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott