Jury asked to 'send a message' in Guantanamo

AP News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2010 5:51 PM
Jury asked to 'send a message' in Guantanamo

A prosecutor urged a military jury to send a message to the world Saturday with a 25-year sentence for a former teenage al-Qaida fighter convicted of war crimes _ but it would be largely symbolic since a plea deal limits the time the last Westerner at Guantanamo would spend behind bars.

Canadian Omar Khadr, who was 15 when captured in Afghanistan in 2002, does not deserve special consideration because of his age or the radicalism of his father, prosecutor Jeff Groharing told jurors at a hilltop courtroom encircled by razor wire at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Nor should Khadr, now a lanky and bearded 24-year-old, be treated like just another soldier who threw a grenade that mortally wounded a U.S. special forces medic during a four-hour firefight, Groharing told the panel. Al-Qaida does not represent a country and ignores internationally accepted principles of war, he said.

"Omar Khadr is a terrorist and murderer who killed Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer and attempted to murder countless others," he said. "The accused has caused tremendous pain and suffering for which he should be punished severely."

Unbeknownst to the seven jurors, there is a cap on that punishment. A still-sealed plea agreement reportedly limits Khadr to serving no more than eight more years, with the U.S. agreeing to return him to his native Canada after serving one more year at Guantanamo. His actual sentence will be whichever is less _ the jury's verdict or the plea agreement.

Jurors adjourned after deliberating about five hours without announcing a decision. They were scheduled to resume Sunday.

Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges including murder, for the death of Speer, and attempted murder for planting 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan. He could have been sentenced to life in prison if convicted on any single count. He does not get any credit for the eight years he has already spent in Guantanamo.

The Toronto-born Khadr was captured after a firefight at an al-Qaida compound in southeastern Afghanistan. He was badly wounded, shot twice and blinded in one eye by shrapnel.

His case has been one of the most scrutinized at the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals, with critics saying a battlefield death should not be treated as a homicide and Khadr _ whose father was a confidante of Osama bin Laden _ was a "child soldier" pushed into militancy by his family. His Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, sought to emphasize that point in his closing arguments, displaying a photo on a screen of Khadr as a young teen with barely a wisp of a mustache.

"Omar Khadr was 15 years old and he was misled by his father," he said. "Al-Qaida uses kids. That's what they do."

Khadr was a "child with a bad dad," who was radicalized as a youth. But Jackson said he has matured and changed while in U.S. custody.

"This case is about giving Omar Khadr a first chance because he's never had it," he said. "Send him back to Canada, let him start his education and career. There's no good keeping him here. Send him home."

The jury began its deliberations after nearly a week of testimony that included a wrenching hour of testimony from Speer's widow about the loss of her husband and a 10-minute statement from Khadr, who apologized to the soldier's family in his most extensive public statements since his capture.