Canadian held at Guantanamo gets two new civilian lawyers

Miami HeraldOctober 7, 2009 

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- In one of the quickest ever war court sessions here, a judge held a 29-minute hearing Wednesday and agreed to let a pair of former U.S. federal prosecutors defend accused Canadian teen terrorist Omar Khadr at a trial, if it's held, next year.

Khadr, 23, looked thin, fit and showed no emotion during his brief trip to the court from Camp Delta, where he awaits trial on allegations he threw a grenade that fatally wounded Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, during a July 2002 U.S. Special Forces assault on a suspected al Qaeda compound near Khost, Afghanistan.

Khadr was 15, and defense attorneys Barry Coburn and Kobie Flowers, both of a Washington, D.C., firm, said after the hearing that they would both prepare for a trial and seek to avert one.

"We're going to do what we need to do to protect our client,'' said Coburn, noting that while the two men had so far had no contact with Department of Justice attorneys they would "explore every option short of a trial.''

At issue, in part, was Khadr's age at the time of his capture, when he was found wounded and unconscious. Coburn and Flowers are respectively the 10th and 11th lawyers on his case, and the latest to question the wisdom of prosecuting the youngest war crimes case in modern history.

Ideally, said Coburn, Khadr should go home to Toronto.

Meantime, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is considering whether to allow the Khadr case to go forward -- either before a military jury here as a war crimes case or before a civilian jury at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said the Pentagon's prosecutor, Navy Capt. John Murphy.

Holder will announce his decision by Nov. 16, Murphy added, after consulting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Wednesday's session illustrated the challenges of holding the on-again, off-again military trials at this remote base in southeast Cuba.

Pentagon planners chartered a special 737 aircraft that left Andrews Air Force Base Monday at 8 a.m. to bring the lawyers, prosecutors, a stenographer, support staff and three reporters with two military escorts to the darkened Camp Justice legal compound.

Wednesday's session ended in time for guards to whisk Khadr back to the prison camp, on another portion of the base, by lunch. But a charter flight ferrying everyone back to Washington could not depart before Thursday afternoon, meaning the lights were on at Camp Justice for 100 hours spanning four days for a half-hour hearing.

Pentagon officials had earlier estimated the cost of any single session exceeded $100,000.

The hearing was routine.

Col. Patrick Parrish, the trial judge, agreed to accept the resignation of one of Khadr's most passionate and outspoken military defense lawyers, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who is now studying for a master's in law on a Pentagon-funded program.

Then, with Khadr's approval, the judge accepted Coburn and Flowers to the war court bar.

He also approved the addition of Army Maj. Jon Jackson as military defense counsel -- Khadr's 12th attorney in five years. Jackson, who wasn't there, is already assigned to defend Mustafa al Hawsawi in the 9/11 mass murder death penalty case.

The Pentagon had already asked to delay the case until mid-November.

But, with a new team starting from scratch, reading thousands of pages of documents and conducting research, the judge scheduled a conference call for Dec. 4 to measure progress.

That timetable left it unlikely that the Pentagon would mobilize a military jury for a trial by Jan. 22, when President Barack Obama has indicated he wants the prison camps closed.

Besides, the defense attorneys said they planned to visit war-torn Afghanistan because, said Flowers, "I never defended or prosecuted a case where I haven't been to the alleged crime scene.''

The new lawyers also said they would go to Canada, where earlier defense attorneys had failed to rally sympathy for the scion of a militant Muslim family sometimes dubbed "Canada's First Family of Terror.''

Pakistani security forces killed Khadr's father in a raid on a suspected al Qaeda safehouse in October 2003. A kid brother, Abdul Kareem, was left paralyzed in that attack, and is back in Toronto with his mother and sister.

His eldest brother Abdullah fled Afghanistan, returning to Canada too, and a Canadian court is now considering a U.S. request for his extradition to face charges he provided material support to al Qaeda

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