GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The chief war court judge on Monday postponed until after Ramadan the next hearings in the death-penalty case of the alleged Sept. 11 plotters, yielding to a request by attorneys for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-defendants to respect their religion.
Rather than hold the hearings Aug. 8-12, as the holy Muslim month was winding down, Army Col. James Pohl reset the hearings for Aug. 22-26, said Pentagon defense attorney James G. Connell III.
Pohl’s order had yet to be released on the military commissions website. But military sources confirmed the delay, which prosecutors had opposed. Also Monday, lawyers for Canadian convict Omar Khadr came to the base to brief the “child soldier” on their latest bid to win his repatriation — a fresh suit filed Friday night with a Canadian federal court seeking an order from a judge to compel Canada’s minister for public safety, Vic Toews, to move forward with a plan for Khadr’s return.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cleared Khadr for release in April, but Toews has yet to present Khadr’s lawyers with his plan to bring the Toronto-born 25-year-old home to his native soil to finish an eight-year sentence.
Under a diplomatic deal, Khadr pleaded guilty to war crimes in October 2010 and could serve another year at the Guantánamo cellblock for war criminals before being moved to Canada for at-most seven more years incarceration. But Canada has yet to formally seek his return.
In the plea, Khadr admitted to throwing a grenade in July 2002 that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight at a suspect al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 at the time. In Canada that means he would be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence under that nation’s application of juvenile justice.
Toronto attorney John Norris said he and Khadr’s other Canadian lawyer, Brydie Bethell, last visited Guantánamo in April. They cannot brief him by telephone unless they use a special facility in Washington, D.C. Instead they came for face-to-face meetings.
Last week, the Pentagon repatriated Sudanese captive Ibrahim al Qosi, 52, who like Khadr pleaded guilty to terror charges in exchange for the possibility of release. “It would be entirely understandable if this were upsetting to Omar,” said Norris, noting that under his original guilty-plea timetable Khadr should have gone home first.
Sudan had been consistently asking for release of its nationals. And Norris said Qosi’s return illustrated “Canada’s abject failure to do the same” in the case of Khadr, Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner, who was captured by U.S. forces 10 years ago this month.
The prospect of return has stirred unhappiness in some Canadian circles. Khadr’s father, a confidant of Osama bin Laden, raised his family with radical, anti-Western Islamic teachings until the elder was killed in a Pakistani raid on a suspected terrorist compound after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Others have said Canada has done too little on behalf of the young man, who should have been given rehabilitation after he was seriously wounded in the firefight that led to his capture — not sent to Guantánamo for interrogation and eventual trial.
A liberal Canadian legislator, Sen. Roméo Dallaire, is spearheading an internet campaign to pressure the government to repatriate Khadr. Dallaire, a retired Canadian lieutenant general, has adopted the Khadr case as a cause as part of his global campaign against the recruitment of child soldiers.