GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A defiant Omar Khadr spoke out on his own behalf Monday, dismissing the U.S. military tribunal process as a “sham,”denouncing his American captors, and disclosing an offer to serve just five years of a 30-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to war crimes — an offer he summarily rejected.
In a calm, measured voice, Khadr made clear his feelings about the judicial machinery that has kept him captive at Guantanamo Bay for the better part of eight years, even smiling on occasion as he addressed the judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, and his Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney.
“I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfil their goal,” the bearded Khadr, 23, said as he explained why he rejected the deal he’d recently been offered by prosecutors.
“I have been used too many times as a child.”
Pleading guilty at his trial next month would “give an excuse to the government for torturing me and abusing me as a child,” he added.
The bulk of Monday’s roller-coaster hearing featured protracted exchanges between Khadr and Parrish about whether the Canadian detainee wanted to represent himself at his trial, currently scheduled to take place next month, or boycott the entire proceeding.
Khadr is charged with war crimes that include killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002 when he was just 15 years old. Human rights organizations and other advocates have argued Khadr was a child soldier and should have been rehabilitated by the U.S., not imprisoned.
Khadr is the only westerner remaining among Guantanamo’s 181 prisoners and remains the prison’s youngest detainee.
The Canadian government has refused to repatriate Khadr, whose late father was an accused al-Qaida financier, and has subsequently faced a series of legal headaches over its lack of action on the case.
In a morning session, under rapid-fire questioning from the judge, Khadr said that he intended to represent himself after firing all his lawyers, including two civilian American attorneys, last week. But when he returned after a recess, he said he wanted to boycott.
“If I was in a formal court, I wouldn’t be doing this,” said Khadr, dressed in the white tunic and trousers that Guantanamo officials allow co-operative captives to wear.
“But because I’m in this court, I am forced to do this…. How can I ask for justice from a process that doesn’t have it?”
Parrish, in turn, said he could not allow Khadr to fire his court-appointed military lawyer, Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson, if he was boycotting the proceedings. Khadr expressed his disagreement.
“You’re forcing him on me,” he said. “I don’t want him to be my lawyer. There are not going to be any discussions between me and Jackson.”
By day’s end, Parrish ruled the trial would tentatively go ahead on Aug. 10 after Jackson consults his bar association in Arkansas to see if it’s ethical to represent someone who doesn’t want to be represented.
Exasperated military prosecutors, meantime, accused Khadr of being disrespectful, manipulative and of “attempting to make a mockery” of the process.
During a break in court, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer Dennis Edney gave reporters copies of Khadr’s handwritten statement to the judge. Edney sat next to Khadr in court but has no standing in the military courtroom.
“Your honour, I’m boycotting this military commission because firstly, the unfairness and unjustice (sic) of it,” the statement read.
“Not one of the lawyers I’ve had, or human rights organizations, or any person ever say that this commission is fair or looking for justice.”
Edney said the military offered Khadr the deal last month, and that it would have required the Canadian government’s blessing. The Scottish-Canadian lawyer said it was impossible to know how Canadian officials might have responded to it since, he said repeatedly, they don’t care about Khadr.
He also accused Parrish of pressuring Khadr to represent himself, despite the Canadian detainee making it repeatedly clear that he wanted nothing to do with the military tribunal.
“He articulately expressed to the court that this was a military commission process specifically designed to get a finding of guilt,” Edney said.
“And you’ve seen the judge today do his best to persuade Omar Khadr to represent himself … where is our government? Where are the people to cry out that this is a disgrace to Omar Khadr?”
The federal government said Monday it plans to appeal a Federal Court ruling that ordered it to come up with solutions to breaches of Khadr’s constitutional rights. The ruling last week gave the government seven days to draft a list of remedies to its violation of Khadr’s Charter rights.
Justice Russel Zinn ruled that Ottawa had not met the standard set in January by the Supreme Court of Canada, which called on the government to right the wrongs it had brought on Khadr.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said that Ottawa will instead challenge Zinn’s order in the Federal Court of Appeal. Khadr faces serious charges, he said, adding that the case raises serious questions about “the Crown prerogative over foreign affairs.”
In Guantanamo Bay, Parrish pointedly pressed Khadr on his decision to fire his lawyers, telling Khadr that he believed his dismissed civilian lawyers, Americans Barry Coburn and Kobie Flowers, had “zealously” defended their client’s interests.
Parrish also quizzed Khadr about his mental health.
“This place is not a five-star hotel,” Khadr replied, “so I’m sure it’s going to have an effect on me. I don’t know.”
That prompted Jackson, the court-appointed military lawyer, to point out to the judge that although Khadr had previously been found fit to stand trial by both prosecution and defence experts, it didn’t necessarily mean he was mentally fit to represent himself.
Prosecutors also warned Khadr, in their comments to Parrish, that his trial would go ahead as scheduled despite the detainee’s decision to boycott.
Khadr replied he’d like to see the trial proceed even earlier than the Aug. 10 start date, saying he’d be happy for the process to get under way “as soon as possible.”