Gitmo Guilty Plea Is A Sad Day for U.S. Rule of Law

This morning I sat in a U.S. military commissions courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and watched the first child soldier charged by a Western nation since World War II plead guilty to crimes he was never even accused of. If the guilty plea of Omar Khadr this morning was a face-saving effort by the U.S. government, it was a sad day for the rule of law in the United States.

Omar Khadr is the 24-year-old Canadian who's spent a third of his life in U.S. custody without trial after being accused of helping his father's al Qaeda associates build improvised explosive devices when he was just 15. He was taken to Afghanistan from Canada by his father at the age of nine. The lone survivor of a 2002 U.S. assault on an Afghan compound, Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.

But as he entered his guilty plea this morning -- after the government agreed he'd serve just one more year at Guantanamo Bay, and an as-yet-unspecified number of years in Canada -- it was clear that prosecutors had taken the opportunity to throw the kitchen-sink-full of charges at him - including far more crimes than he'd even been charged with. Most importantly, Khadr pled guilty to the murder of two Afghan soldiers who accompanied U.S. forces in the 2002 assault on the compound. The government has never presented any evidence whatsoever that Khadr was responsible for that.

That Khadr pled to this and the range of other charges that the government first unveiled today (details will not be available until the military commissions publicly release the stipulation signed by Khadr tomorrow) is hardly surprising. Ever since Judge Patrick Parrish ruled that Khadr's statements made to interrogators after he was threatened with gang-rape, coerced and possibly tortured were admissible, his defense was sure to be challenging. Although the government did not appear to have any forensic or eyewitness testimony to support its murder charge, government interrogators planned to testify that Khadr had willingly told them that he threw the grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer. Whether he said that because it was true, or because he was a scared and wounded 15-year-old expecting a quick release for telling his interrogators what they wanted to hear, we'll never know. (Khadr was shot multiple times and severely wounded in the firefight, which left him blind in one eye; he still has shrapnel in the other.)

Khadr's sentencing hearing begins tomorrow. Although the plea agreement contains a recommended sentence (news reports have said it's 8 years total) that deal will remain secret until the military commission sworn to act as a jury in this case issues its own sentence based on live testimony. The government will present witnesses to describe the effects of improvised explosive devices, and the testimony of Sergeant Speer's widow about her loss. Khadr's lawyers will put forth psychological and psychiatric experts to talk about the impacts of torture on him and likely about the ability of a 15-year-old youth to appreciate the wrongfulness of his acts, particularly when they were directed by the adults around him.

But all of this is hardly a vindication of the U.S. military commission system. After the plea was entered this morning, chief prosecutor Captain John Murphy told reporters that Khadr "stands convicted of being a murderer and also being an Al Qaeda terrorist" based on "his own words."

To be sure, Judge Parrish took pains today to ask Khadr if he was entering his guilty plea knowingly, and fully understanding the consequences. Khadr nodded and quietly answered "yes." But in truth, he had little choice. If Khadr had gone to trial, he faced a potential life sentence from a military jury, who would hear how he "confessed" to the crimes in interrogation. He could have faced many more years in prison. What's more, the U.S. maintains the right to indefinitely detain him even if he was found not guilty. Ironically, all but one of the other four detainees found guilty in military commissions have gone home, while dozens of remaining Guantanamo detainees who have never been charged with a crime continue to languish.

For Khadr, then, today's guilty plea was probably the right choice. His Canadian lawyers are likely to challenge his sentence as unlawful as soon as he's transferred to Canada. (The "diplomatic notes" reached between the U.S. and Canadian governments that will likely allow his transfer after a year in U.S. custody are still secret but will be released with the plea agreement after the commission members recommend their sentence.)

For the U.S. government, the guilty plea was a way to save face. After all, the Obama administration knew that it was a political embarrassment for its first military commission trial to be of a child soldier - a contradiction of its obligations under international law to rehabilitate child soldiers rather than punish them. The administration also knew that the charges against Khadr were all legally dubious - invalid under international law and a violation of the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. Khadr's guilty plea allows them to rack up another "win" for the military commissions, pushing the total to a whopping five convictions in the last eight years. By contrast, U.S. civilian federal courts have convicted more than 400 terrorists in that same time period. This doesn't exactly tip the balance.

Still, no matter how you look at it, this plea makes a troubling statement about the United States' respect for the rule of law. Although as part of his plea agreement Omar Khadr has waived his right to appeal his conviction or to sue the United States for his confinement or treatment, a dark cloud continues to shadow this case. That cloud will continue to conceal the truth about Omar Khadr's treatment at the hands of his U.S. interrogators; and it will ensure that the validity of his conviction, and the integrity of the military commissions themselves, remain in doubt.

 

 

Former Gitmo Prisoner's Trial Continues, as Child Soldier's is Postponed

As the trial of a former Guantanamo detainee proceeded peacefully in a New York courtroom today, U.S. military prosecutors in Cuba werereportedly scrambling to get Omar Khadr, the alleged child soldier on trial for war crimes at Gitmo, to plead guilty to murder. Plea negotiations are reportedly ongoing and his trial, set to resume Monday, has been postponed for a week.

In New York, the government is finally presenting its evidence against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first former Gitmo prisoner to be transferred to the U.S. for trial.

On Thursday morning, an FBI agent testified about the exhaustive investigation done at the crime scene after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania -- just the sort of complex investigation that FBI agents are trained to do. Having arrived in Tanzania within 24 hours of the bombing, FBI agents secured the crime scene and analyzed and preserved 661 pieces of evidence. Some of that led to the discovery of pieces of the white Nissan truck that had been turned into a bomb, and to its string of former owners.

Unfortunately for the government, though, a broker for the sale of the truck on Thursday afternoon proceeded to contradict everything he'd told the FBI 12 years ago.

Some of the problems in the Ghailani trial are predictable, given that the government imprisoned Ghailani for six years without trial after capturing him in Pakistan in 2004. Because he was interrogated using "enhanced interrogation techniques" and possibly torture in a CIA black site, none of the evidence obtained there is reliable or admissible. And because the government still didn't put him on trial for four years after transferring him to Guantanamo, witnesses may now have a hard time remembering what they told the FBI when it investigated the bombings more than a decade ago. The investigation led to the conviction of four other men in 2001. All are serving life in prison.

What will happen in Ghailani's case remains unclear. As I pointed out earlier, the defense isn't contesting many of the facts the government is now presenting. Yesterday, for example, we heard a whole day of testimony from victims of the bombing -- horrifying stories of being buried under the rubble and finding severed limbs of colleagues and loved ones. Ghailani's lawyers aren't disputing that any of that happened, and conducted hardly any witness cross-examination.

But when it comes to proving that the diminutive Ghailani (friends called him Foupi, meaning "the little one" in Swahili), actually intended to participate in the bombing plot, that's where the government may have a harder time. Though we've already heard testimony that Ghailani, who was around 22 at the time, was at least with one of the people who purchased the truck, the government has yet to present any direct evidence that Ghailani knew what it was being used for. The prosecution's case will likely depend on arguing that Ghailani should have known, based on the circumstances. Given that the trial is expected to last for up to four months, the government will have plenty of opportunity to present its evidence.

Meanwhile, back at Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr, the "child soldier" on trial for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, is reportedly considering pleading guilty and serving one more year at Gitmo, then returning to Canada to serve more time there. Whether he'll agree to plead guilty to crimes that don't really exist remains to be seen. (As I've explained before, none of the crimes he's charged with are actually war crimes that belong in a military commission.)

In addition to the legal flaws in the government's case, there's the problem that the military appears to have no forensic evidence demonstrating that Khadr actually committed the crimes he's accused of. That's in part because, unlike the FBI, military investigators don't carefully gather and preserve evidence at a crime scene, making a subsequent prosecution much more difficult. For all these reasons -- in addition to Khadr's likely anger and bewilderment at having been imprisoned by the U.S. for a third of his life without trial -- the 24-year-old Canadian may now have less incentive to cooperate.

Even if Khadr does plead guilty, the legitimacy of that conviction, and of the entire military commissions process, will remain in doubt.

 

 

Former Gitmo Prisoner's Trial Continues, as Child Soldier's is Postponed

As the trial of a former Guantanamo detainee proceeded peacefully in a New York courtroom today, U.S. military prosecutors in Cuba werereportedly scrambling to get Omar Khadr, the alleged child soldier on trial for war crimes at Gitmo, to plead guilty to murder. Plea negotiations are reportedly ongoing and his trial, set to resume Monday, has been postponed for a week.

In New York, the government is finally presenting its evidence against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first former Gitmo prisoner to be transferred to the U.S. for trial.

On Thursday morning, an FBI agent testified about the exhaustive investigation done at the crime scene after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania -- just the sort of complex investigation that FBI agents are trained to do. Having arrived in Tanzania within 24 hours of the bombing, FBI agents secured the crime scene and analyzed and preserved 661 pieces of evidence. Some of that led to the discovery of pieces of the white Nissan truck that had been turned into a bomb, and to its string of former owners.

Unfortunately for the government, though, a broker for the sale of the truck on Thursday afternoon proceeded to contradict everything he'd told the FBI 12 years ago.

Some of the problems in the Ghailani trial are predictable, given that the government imprisoned Ghailani for six years without trial after capturing him in Pakistan in 2004. Because he was interrogated using "enhanced interrogation techniques" and possibly torture in a CIA black site, none of the evidence obtained there is reliable or admissible. And because the government still didn't put him on trial for four years after transferring him to Guantanamo, witnesses may now have a hard time remembering what they told the FBI when it investigated the bombings more than a decade ago. The investigation led to the conviction of four other men in 2001. All are serving life in prison.

What will happen in Ghailani's case remains unclear. As I pointed out earlier, the defense isn't contesting many of the facts the government is now presenting. Yesterday, for example, we heard a whole day of testimony from victims of the bombing -- horrifying stories of being buried under the rubble and finding severed limbs of colleagues and loved ones. Ghailani's lawyers aren't disputing that any of that happened, and conducted hardly any witness cross-examination.

But when it comes to proving that the diminutive Ghailani (friends called him Foupi, meaning "the little one" in Swahili), actually intended to participate in the bombing plot, that's where the government may have a harder time. Though we've already heard testimony that Ghailani, who was around 22 at the time, was at least with one of the people who purchased the truck, the government has yet to present any direct evidence that Ghailani knew what it was being used for. The prosecution's case will likely depend on arguing that Ghailani should have known, based on the circumstances. Given that the trial is expected to last for up to four months, the government will have plenty of opportunity to present its evidence.

Meanwhile, back at Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr, the "child soldier" on trial for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, is reportedly considering pleading guilty and serving one more year at Gitmo, then returning to Canada to serve more time there. Whether he'll agree to plead guilty to crimes that don't really exist remains to be seen. (As I've explained before, none of the crimes he's charged with are actually war crimes that belong in a military commission.)

In addition to the legal flaws in the government's case, there's the problem that the military appears to have no forensic evidence demonstrating that Khadr actually committed the crimes he's accused of. That's in part because, unlike the FBI, military investigators don't carefully gather and preserve evidence at a crime scene, making a subsequent prosecution much more difficult. For all these reasons -- in addition to Khadr's likely anger and bewilderment at having been imprisoned by the U.S. for a third of his life without trial -- the 24-year-old Canadian may now have less incentive to cooperate.

Even if Khadr does plead guilty, the legitimacy of that conviction, and of the entire military commissions process, will remain in doubt.

 

 

Former Gitmo Prisoner's Trial Continues, as Child Soldier's is Postponed

As the trial of a former Guantanamo detainee proceeded peacefully in a New York courtroom today, U.S. military prosecutors in Cuba werereportedly scrambling to get Omar Khadr, the alleged child soldier on trial for war crimes at Gitmo, to plead guilty to murder. Plea negotiations are reportedly ongoing and his trial, set to resume Monday, has been postponed for a week.

In New York, the government is finally presenting its evidence against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first former Gitmo prisoner to be transferred to the U.S. for trial.

On Thursday morning, an FBI agent testified about the exhaustive investigation done at the crime scene after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania -- just the sort of complex investigation that FBI agents are trained to do. Having arrived in Tanzania within 24 hours of the bombing, FBI agents secured the crime scene and analyzed and preserved 661 pieces of evidence. Some of that led to the discovery of pieces of the white Nissan truck that had been turned into a bomb, and to its string of former owners.

Unfortunately for the government, though, a broker for the sale of the truck on Thursday afternoon proceeded to contradict everything he'd told the FBI 12 years ago.

Some of the problems in the Ghailani trial are predictable, given that the government imprisoned Ghailani for six years without trial after capturing him in Pakistan in 2004. Because he was interrogated using "enhanced interrogation techniques" and possibly torture in a CIA black site, none of the evidence obtained there is reliable or admissible. And because the government still didn't put him on trial for four years after transferring him to Guantanamo, witnesses may now have a hard time remembering what they told the FBI when it investigated the bombings more than a decade ago. The investigation led to the conviction of four other men in 2001. All are serving life in prison.

What will happen in Ghailani's case remains unclear. As I pointed out earlier, the defense isn't contesting many of the facts the government is now presenting. Yesterday, for example, we heard a whole day of testimony from victims of the bombing -- horrifying stories of being buried under the rubble and finding severed limbs of colleagues and loved ones. Ghailani's lawyers aren't disputing that any of that happened, and conducted hardly any witness cross-examination.

But when it comes to proving that the diminutive Ghailani (friends called him Foupi, meaning "the little one" in Swahili), actually intended to participate in the bombing plot, that's where the government may have a harder time. Though we've already heard testimony that Ghailani, who was around 22 at the time, was at least with one of the people who purchased the truck, the government has yet to present any direct evidence that Ghailani knew what it was being used for. The prosecution's case will likely depend on arguing that Ghailani should have known, based on the circumstances. Given that the trial is expected to last for up to four months, the government will have plenty of opportunity to present its evidence.

Meanwhile, back at Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr, the "child soldier" on trial for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, is reportedly considering pleading guilty and serving one more year at Gitmo, then returning to Canada to serve more time there. Whether he'll agree to plead guilty to crimes that don't really exist remains to be seen. (As I've explained before, none of the crimes he's charged with are actually war crimes that belong in a military commission.)

In addition to the legal flaws in the government's case, there's the problem that the military appears to have no forensic evidence demonstrating that Khadr actually committed the crimes he's accused of. That's in part because, unlike the FBI, military investigators don't carefully gather and preserve evidence at a crime scene, making a subsequent prosecution much more difficult. For all these reasons -- in addition to Khadr's likely anger and bewilderment at having been imprisoned by the U.S. for a third of his life without trial -- the 24-year-old Canadian may now have less incentive to cooperate.

Even if Khadr does plead guilty, the legitimacy of that conviction, and of the entire military commissions process, will remain in doubt.

 

 

Former Gitmo Prisoner's Trial Continues, as Child Soldier's is Postponed

As the trial of a former Guantanamo detainee proceeded peacefully in a New York courtroom today, U.S. military prosecutors in Cuba werereportedly scrambling to get Omar Khadr, the alleged child soldier on trial for war crimes at Gitmo, to plead guilty to murder. Plea negotiations are reportedly ongoing and his trial, set to resume Monday, has been postponed for a week.

In New York, the government is finally presenting its evidence against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first former Gitmo prisoner to be transferred to the U.S. for trial.

On Thursday morning, an FBI agent testified about the exhaustive investigation done at the crime scene after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania -- just the sort of complex investigation that FBI agents are trained to do. Having arrived in Tanzania within 24 hours of the bombing, FBI agents secured the crime scene and analyzed and preserved 661 pieces of evidence. Some of that led to the discovery of pieces of the white Nissan truck that had been turned into a bomb, and to its string of former owners.

Unfortunately for the government, though, a broker for the sale of the truck on Thursday afternoon proceeded to contradict everything he'd told the FBI 12 years ago.

Some of the problems in the Ghailani trial are predictable, given that the government imprisoned Ghailani for six years without trial after capturing him in Pakistan in 2004. Because he was interrogated using "enhanced interrogation techniques" and possibly torture in a CIA black site, none of the evidence obtained there is reliable or admissible. And because the government still didn't put him on trial for four years after transferring him to Guantanamo, witnesses may now have a hard time remembering what they told the FBI when it investigated the bombings more than a decade ago. The investigation led to the conviction of four other men in 2001. All are serving life in prison.

What will happen in Ghailani's case remains unclear. As I pointed out earlier, the defense isn't contesting many of the facts the government is now presenting. Yesterday, for example, we heard a whole day of testimony from victims of the bombing -- horrifying stories of being buried under the rubble and finding severed limbs of colleagues and loved ones. Ghailani's lawyers aren't disputing that any of that happened, and conducted hardly any witness cross-examination.

But when it comes to proving that the diminutive Ghailani (friends called him Foupi, meaning "the little one" in Swahili), actually intended to participate in the bombing plot, that's where the government may have a harder time. Though we've already heard testimony that Ghailani, who was around 22 at the time, was at least with one of the people who purchased the truck, the government has yet to present any direct evidence that Ghailani knew what it was being used for. The prosecution's case will likely depend on arguing that Ghailani should have known, based on the circumstances. Given that the trial is expected to last for up to four months, the government will have plenty of opportunity to present its evidence.

Meanwhile, back at Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr, the "child soldier" on trial for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, is reportedly considering pleading guilty and serving one more year at Gitmo, then returning to Canada to serve more time there. Whether he'll agree to plead guilty to crimes that don't really exist remains to be seen. (As I've explained before, none of the crimes he's charged with are actually war crimes that belong in a military commission.)

In addition to the legal flaws in the government's case, there's the problem that the military appears to have no forensic evidence demonstrating that Khadr actually committed the crimes he's accused of. That's in part because, unlike the FBI, military investigators don't carefully gather and preserve evidence at a crime scene, making a subsequent prosecution much more difficult. For all these reasons -- in addition to Khadr's likely anger and bewilderment at having been imprisoned by the U.S. for a third of his life without trial -- the 24-year-old Canadian may now have less incentive to cooperate.

Even if Khadr does plead guilty, the legitimacy of that conviction, and of the entire military commissions process, will remain in doubt.

 

 

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