Serious Setback for Omar Khadr as Pretrial Hearing Comes to a Close
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
Things did not go well for Omar Khadr on his last day of pretrial hearings at Guantanamo Bay today. In a series of rulings at the end of the day, the judge presiding over Khadr’s case denied virtually every request from the defense to exclude prejudicial evidence at trial. He also adopted wholesale the government’s view that the crime the government says Khadr committed as a 15-year-old – throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier -- is a violation of the laws of war. The vast majority of international law experts believe otherwise.
Jury selection for his trial – the first war crimes trial to be held by the Obama administration – is expected to begin tomorrow.
A Canadian seized by U.S. forces following a firefight in Afghanistan that left him severely wounded, Khadr has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay for the last eight years without trial. In earlier testimony in pretrial hearings in this case, the lead interrogator in his case testified that his interrogation tactics included yelling, throwing things, threats and coercion, and in Khadr’s case specifically included the threat of gang rape and possible death in prison. This interrogator, who the government called Interrogator #1, interrogated Khadr approximately 25 times.
Based on that testimony, as well as on Khadr’s claims that he was beaten, sleep-deprived and abused in a variety of other ways, Khadr’s lawyers asked the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, to exclude all evidence of his statements confessing to the crimes charged, on the grounds that all of those confessions were tainted by the abuse he endured. In another similar case, involving Mohammed Jawad, also captured as a teenager, a military judge had done just that, after hearing testimony that interrogators threatened to kill his family if he didn’t cooperate. After that ruling, the government dropped its case against Jawad and he was returned home to Afghanistan.
Khadr was not so lucky today. Judge Parrish concluded that despite the threats and abuse, Khadr’s statements to interrogators were not tainted and could all be admitted at trial.
After the hearing, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, was furious.
“Judge Parrish should go back to school and learn some of the basic principals of law,” he told reporters in a brief press conference in a sweltering airplane hangar outside the courtroom. “You can’t split and dice this stuff. If a confessional statement was made under duress, the whole confession, the whole statement, is poisoned.” Edney went on to say that he and Khadr believe that “the system is stacked” against his client.
In other rulings, Judge Parrish certified Evan Kohlmann, a 31-year-old NBC news analyst, as an expert on al Qaeda and related terrorist groups who can testify at Khadr's trial. Kohlmann, who has been retained by the government in 30 different terrorist prosecutions, has his own company that provides reports on terrorist groups to corporations and media organizations, based largely on surfing the Internet. He does not speak Arabic, has never been to Afghanistan, and does not have an advanced degree in anything related to terrorism, Islam or Islamic extremism. He testified today, however, that he has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University where he wrote his senior thesis and some other college papers on al Qaeda and Arab-Afghans. Kohlmann has created a video that tells the history of al Qaeda and its goals from the 1980s through September 11, based largely on video clips and other public documents he’s found online. The government has frequently tried to show that video to the jury in other terrorism-related cases. Kohlmann is paid for all of the testimony he provides for the prosecution.
Although the defense argued that Kohlmann is not qualified as an expert, Judge Parrish quickly dismissed that claim. More surprising, however, was that he agreed to let Kohlmann show his 90-minute video, although it does not mention Omar Khadr or address any of the charges against him in any way. It does, however, elaborate on Al Qaeda’s various plots against the United States over the past several decades.
Kohlmann testified today that he knows nothing about Khadr except what is listed in the government’s charges.