Guantanamo: Canadian Teen at Trial
- Canadian teen protests solitary confinement at Guantanamo trial
Thursday April 6, 2006
A Canadian teenager accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan
said he would boycott his 'war on terror" trial before a US military
tribunal after he was placed in solitary confinement at the Guantanamo
"I am boycotting these procedures until I am treated humanely and
fairly," said Omar Ahmed Khadr, 19, reading from a handwritten
statement in a nervous voice.
Khadr's statement set off an angry exchange between his defense
lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey, and the military officer
presiding over the tribunal, Colonel Robert Chester, who called a
recess in the pre-trial hearing after Vokey pounded the podium and yelled.
Vokey fumed that just as he was trying to prepare his client's case,
"they move him to solitary confinement for no apparent reason whatsoever".
He complained that his client was being treated unfairly and that the
conditions at the prison and the tribunal's procedures undermined the
defense team's ability to carry out its work.
"Every time we come down here there is this incredible burden just to
do our normal jobs," he said.
The lawyer said he had been asked by Khadr to stop taking any legal
action in the case to support his protest over his detention conditions.
After a short recess to allow tempers to cool, Chester ordered the
proceedings to continue and said the matter of Khadr's solitary
confinement would be addressed later in the week once the facts could
The episode illustrated the legal challenges facing the US
administration as it struggles to try detainees held in a
controversial prison before extraordinary tribunals operating outside
of international and US law.
A spokesman for the military contingent running the Guantanamo camp
said it was routine practice for detainees facing charges before the
tribunals to be moved into the maximum-security section of the prison.
While the inmates are separated from the rest of the inmates and put
in individual cells, Commander Robert Durand said the term solitary
confinement did not apply because the inmates could speak to each other.
"It's largely for their own protection," Durand told AFP.
The US government has come under severe criticism over conditions at
the Guantanamo prison at the US naval base on Cuba's southern coast.
Former detainees, defense lawyers and FBI officials say inmates have
been abused and tortured in marathon interrogation sessions.
The tribunals, set up to try "war on terror" detainees at the
Guantanamo prison, have been plagued by legal dilemmas over the rights
of the accused and the procedures to be followed.
Khadr's defense lawyers said they were being asked to violate their
professional ethical obligations by defying their client's wishes to
resolve his detention conditions immediately.
But Chester rejected their concerns and Vokey said the defense team
would participate in this week's proceedings under protest.
Only 10 of some 490 inmates held at the prison have been charged in
the more than four years since the camp was opened. Prosecutors say
they plan eventually to charge a total of about 75 detainees, leaving
the fate of the other prisoners unclear.
As the hearing continued Wednesday afternoon, Khadr's lawyer
challenged the impartiality of the presiding officer, saying he had a
potential conflict of interest due to a pending application for a job
as an immigration judge.
Vokey said the post is appointed by the US Attorney General, Alberto
Gonzales, who Vokey argued also has a vested interest in the
operations of the tribunals which he helped to create.
Vokey pointed out that his client had a habeas petition pending before
a US federal court which Gonzales's office is fighting to defeat.
Khadr, who says he has been tortured and abused, was captured in
Afghanistan by US forces in July 2002, when he was 15, and his lawyers
say he is too young to be tried on war crimes.
He is charged with plotting with Al-Qaeda and killing a US medic
during a battle with American troops near Khost in Afghanistan.
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