World

Khadr wears suit to Guantanamo trial, jury selection begins

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Accused Canadian terrorist Omar Khadr came to court Tuesday in a business suit and tie, stood and said "hello'' to a jury pool of American military officers brought to this base from around the world to sit in judgment at his war crimes tribunal.

Lawyers and the judge spent the morning questioning the pool of 15 officers on their suitability to sit on the first full war crimes trial of the Obama administration.

Only five need to be chosen to hear the case.

Khadr, 23, was captured in Afghanistan at age 15. He allegedly threw a grenade in a July 2002 firefight with U.S. Special Forces that killed Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M. His also is accused of building and planting landmines in a bid to resist the American invasion in reprisal for the 9/11 attacks.

He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors chose not to make it a death penalty eligible trial in consideration of his age, but seek life imprisonment.

He has already spent a third of his life in U.S. military custody.

Questioning of potential jurors ranged from their television viewing habits -- all but three said they watch CSI-type shows -- to whether they had undergone SERE training, designed to simulate torture and test an American soldier's ability to resist or evade enemy interrogation.

"It hurt," said an unidentified male officer, who was one of four in the pool that had been so trained. "They put me in some situations I thought I never could come out of on the other side. It gave me confidence that I could perform my abilities."

At issue was which of the U.S. officers' could impartially consider whether Guantanamo's youngest and last Western captive would be found guilty of killing a brother American soldier.

Judge Patrick Parrish cautioned the members that, like all other U.S. court systems, a military commissions defendant comes to court with a presumption of innocence.

"He is innocent," said pool member No. 2, in reply to a question from the Pentagon appointed defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson. "The government has to prove him guilty. . . We have to do this right."

Tuesday, Khadr was fully engaged, watching the pool submit to questioning by both Jackson, and the lead case prosecutor, former Marine Maj. Jeffrey Groharing, now a Justice Department lawyer.

His grey suit looked off the rack. The trousers didn't reach his ankles. His tie appeared rose colored.

A day earlier, the teen who grew into manhood in U.S. custody, appeared in court in the white uniform of a cooperative prison camp captive. He spent the morning studying a World Cup soccer magazine.

Jury selection was expected to take up much of the day, first with a group inquiry then later with follow-up questions of the officers one by one to determine which would hear the case that could go on for several weeks.

As officers, all have college educations. Most panel members said they had read books or seen films about Osama Bin Laden or Arab-Israeli crisis. All said they believed the United States treats Guantánamo detainees humanely. Three said they had opinions on President Barack Obama's plan to "close Guantanamo," but did not express them.

Only one would-be juror claimed working knowledge of Arabic and two said they knew nothing about Islam.

Once a jury is picked, both sides will give deliver their arguments, probably Wednesday.

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