Testimony ends in Guantanamo 'child soldier' case

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 5:27 PM
Testimony ends in Guantanamo 'child soldier' case

Testimony ended Friday in the sentencing hearing for a former teenage al-Qaida fighter with the defendant asking a jury to consider that U.S. interrogators suggested he could be raped in prison.

A lawyer for Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, read a statement from the defendant as their final piece of evidence. It described an incident shortly after his capture in Afghanistan in 2002 in which interrogators told him a fictional story about an uncooperative Afghan youth who was sent to an American prison and raped.

"I know it does not change what I did, but I hope you will think about it when you punish me," Khadr said. "This story scared me very much, and made me cry."

Former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus admitted in an April pretrial hearing that he told the fictional rape story to get Khadr to talk. At the time, Khadr was hospitalized from serious wounds, including two gunshots to the torso and shrapnel in his eye, from a four-hour firefight with U.S. forces at an al-Qaida compound in southeastern Afghanistan. Claus pleaded guilty to charges of maltreatment and assault involving other detainees and was sentenced to five months in prison.

Khadr's lawyers previously disclosed the story about the rape threat as they sought unsuccessfully to prevent prosecutors from using the prisoner's statements to interrogators, arguing that it was part of a broader pattern of abusive treatment that amounted to illegal coercion. But the judge said there was no credible evidence that he was coerced and ruled that he would allow a series of incriminating interviews.

Khadr, now 24, pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges including murder for throwing a grenade that mortally wounded Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. The jury of seven military officers is expected to begin deliberating his sentence Saturday.

Under the rules of the military tribunals, the sentence is capped at a length of time specified in a still-sealed plea bargain agreement. It is reportedly eight years, and he is to be transferred back to his native Canada after one more year at Guantanamo. If he had been convicted on even one of charges he could have faced a life in prison.

Khadr's defenders say he was a child soldier pushed into militancy by his radical father and should have been sent home long ago for rehabilitation. But prosecutors charged him with war crimes, arguing that he was not a legitimate soldier when he was part of an al-Qaida explosives cell in Afghanistan.