GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr’s confessions to interrogators can be used as evidence against him in his murder and terrorism conspiracy trial at Guantanamo, a U.S. military judge ruled on Monday.
Khadr’s lawyers claimed the statements were illegally obtained through torture and cruelty and asked the judge to throw them out. The judge refused.
Khadr’s trial is scheduled to start on Tuesday in the U.S. war crimes court at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
Toronto-born defendant Khadr was captured at age 15 on an Afghan battlefield. His trial will be the first war crimes tribunal anywhere since World War Two to prosecute someone for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile.
Now 23, he has spent a third of his life in the Guantanamo detention camp and faces five charges that could put him in prison for life.
Khadr was captured in a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002 and is charged with murdering U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer with a hand grenade during the battle.
Khadr is also charged with making roadside explosives for use against U.S.-led forces, spying on U.S. convoys, providing material support for terrorism and conspiring with al Qaeda to commit terrorism against civilians.
In a string of defeats for Khadr, the judge also said the anonymous jury of U.S. military officers could see a video showing Khadr helping a group of alleged al Qaeda operatives make and plant roadside explosives in Afghanistan.
The video was found in the bombed-out compound where Khadr was captured and badly wounded. Prosecutors successfully argued that U.S. forces found it independently several weeks after the battle, and did not rely on information obtained from Khadr’s interrogators.
Khadr is the youngest of 176 men held at Guantanamo. His case will be the first contested trial at Guantanamo under the administration of President Barack Obama, who criticized and then revamped the tribunals and missed his January deadline for shutting down the detention camp.
Khadr’s lawyer, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, said Khadr’s confessions were obtained through inhumane treatment that began when his first interrogator in Afghanistan made indirect threats of gang rape and death.
Jackson said that initial encounter poisoned all subsequent interrogations, which he asked the judge to throw out.
“Tell the government that they cannot and will not benefit from someone being threatened with rape and torture,” Jackson urged the judge. “Sir, be a voice today. Tell the world that we actually stand for what we say we stand for.”
Prosecutors cited testimony from FBI and U.S. naval intelligence agents who said Khadr spoke to them freely during friendly and respectful sessions in which no one ever even yelled.
“He’s trying to manipulate this court into believing that the people here who went to great lengths to act professionally were mistreating him,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Chris Eason, one of the prosecutors.
Canada has declined to intervene in the Khadr trial, despite court rulings in Ottawa that his rights were violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantanamo.
Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, said the tribunal was rigged to convict and that the U.S. and Canadian governments would use his inevitable conviction as proof that Khadr deserved abuse.
“The Canadian government is mean and it’s looking forward to Omar Khadr being found guilty to justify its position over the years,” Edney told journalists at Guantanamo on Sunday.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman