On first day of Khadr's Guantanamo trial, attorney faints

Canadian Omar Khadr attends jury selection. (Janet Hamlin, pool sketch artist)
Canadian Omar Khadr attends jury selection. (Janet Hamlin, pool sketch artist)

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Omar Khadr's lone defense attorney, an Army lieutenant colonel, collapsed in court Thursday and was taken away to a base hospital on a stretcher, forcing a military judge to suspend the first day of the war crimes trial.

Military officials offered no information on the status of the lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, who coughed, took a sip of water and then appeared to faint.

A military medic on standby for such emergencies rushed into court, said Navy Cmdr. Brad Fagan, a prison camps spokesman who happened to be inside courtroom one at the time of the episode.

Judge Patrick Parrish, an Army colonel, had just ordered a recess. It was unclear whether the seven-member jury of senior U.S. military officers witnessed the episode.

Parrish recessed court for the night and set resumption of proceedings at 9 a.m., suggesting Jackson would recover. Jackson, who has been on the case for about a year, is the 12th attorney to defend the now 23-year-old Canadian.

Khadr, captured at age 15 in a firefight in Afghanistan, fired all his attorneys this summer but Parrish ordered Jackson, a Pentagon assigned attorney, to stay on the case.

Khadr is accused of terror murder for allegedly hurling a grenade that killed a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, on July 27, 2002. Speer's widow Tabitha was inside the small tribunal chamber, along with a number of international human rights observers when it occurred.

Khadr allegedly bragged to interrogators, "I am a terrorist, trained by al Qaida," a Pentagon prosecutor told the military commission Thursday in the first full war crimes trial of the Obama administration.

But Khadr's defense lawyer countered that U.S. interrogators used fear and intimidation to manipulate the 15-year-old boy into saying "what they wanted to hear'' after his capture in Afghanistan eight years ago in a firefight that nearly killed the Canadian and left an American soldier dead.

Khadr looked straight ahead as prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing cast the Canadian as a killer and al Qaida conspirator who was found packing a pistol in the rubble of a suspected al Qaida compound after a four-hour firefight.

Nor did Guantanamo's youngest and last Western detainee make eye contact with the widow of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, who brought a pack of tissues to the mustard-colored courthouse for opening arguments to launch what could be a month-long trial.

The slain sergeant's 40-year-old widow, Tabitha, wiped tears from her eyes when the commander of her husband's unit described seeing him after the battle gravely wounded by a head wound, "mumbling incoherently.''

A Special Forces Army commander called Col. W. choked up seconds before describing it. And the Canadian appeared to blink back tears ... once ... when Pentagon appointed defense lawyer, Army Col. Jon Jackson, blamed Khadr's now dead father for abandoning his boy to the firefight that changed his life.

Omar Khadr "was there,'' Jackson said in his opening, "because Ahmed Khadr hated his enemies more than he loved his son.''

About that, Groharing's opening argument seemed to agree.

"He grew up in a family of radical Islamists,'' the former Marine prosecutor said in the opening. As a youngster Khadr's family "even lived with Osama bin Laden in an al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan'' where Khadr "learned that ideology and later put it to use.''

Jackson accused the Pentagon of using "cherry-picked statements'' to build its case. He asked jurors to notice how, as different interrogators would give their accounts at trial, Khadr's confession changed.

At first, they said, he admitted to hurling the grenade overhand. Later, he supposedly said he threw it with his right hand over his left shoulder while crouching, Jackson said, to bolster the narrative because Khadr would be later shot in the back.

Most of the narrative has emerged through years of pre-trial hearings and federal court challenges.

The prosecutor offered a new detail to his opening:

After U.S. forces found Khadr, shot twice through the back and blinded in one eye, an Army private guarding him discovered a pistol on him, with a round in the chamber. Groharing didn't say where.

(This story will be updated.)

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