Khadr prosecutor: ‘The world is watching’
GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA —The seven military jurors debating a sentence for Omar Khadr are being asked to think about a lot more than just the fate of the Toronto-born detainee.
“Make no mistake. The world is watching,” Pentagon prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing told the uniformed panel Saturday morning. “Your sentence will serve a message.”
Though more than 5,000 American service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Khadr is the only captive the U.S. has charged with murder in connection with one of those deaths.
Jurors broke for the night Saturday after failing to reach a decision following nearly five hours of debate. They will resume their deliberations Sunday.
During 90 minutes of impassioned closing arguments Saturday morning, Groharing called Khadr’s actions “hate crimes in the extreme,” and urged the jury to hand down a sentence of 25 years.
Khadr has pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including the murder of Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer, who was fatally wounded following the July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan in which Khadr was captured.
As Groharing spoke, photos of Speer flashed across a video screen in the courtroom and Speer’s widow Tabitha sat in the front row clutching framed photos of her two children.
“Omar Khadr is not a rock star,” he said referring to testimony from the Pentagon-hired psychiatrist last week who said Khadr was regarded as a celebrity among other detainees.
“He’s not a victim. He’s a terrorist and a murderer. Tell him that with your sentence.”
But Khadr’s lawyer, Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson, who paced before the jury in his U.S. Army dress uniform, also talked about the nature of Khadr’s crimes.
“Keep this in perspective. This is not the typical murder case,” Jackson said. He then repeated it: “This is not the typical murder case.”
“Omar Khadr was a lawful target but he didn’t have the right to fight back,” he said.
Jackson stressed to the three female and four male members of the panel that Khadr was 15 and under the influence of his radical father when in Afghanistan.
Khadr’s father, a reputed terrorist financier who was killed by Pakistani forces in 2003, had shuttled his children from Canada to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they met many of Al Qaeda’s leadership.
Jackson opened and closed his argument showing the jury a photo of a teenaged Khadr, telling them the tall, bearded 24-year-old who sat before them was not the same person as the 15-year-old who was shot and captured in Afghanistan.
“Every kid who has ever been born . . . deserves a second chance,” Jackson said. “This case is about giving Omar Khadr a first chance, because he never had it.”
A letter from an unnamed Guantanamo art teacher was also given to the jury, as were pastel drawings sketched by Khadr while detained here.
Referring to the jury as his peers, Jackson highlighted the statements earlier this week from Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, who testified by video from Kabul, Afghanistan that he believed Khadr has “rehabilitation potential,” based on his friendly interactions with him in Guantanamo between 2006 and 2008.
Among the 200 pages of documents the jury is considering is also an unsworn statement by Khadr explaining how he was threatened by a U.S. military interrogator while detained in Afghanistan and recovering from near-fatal wounds.
Joshua Claus, the former U.S. Army interrogator who was convicted in relation to the death of another detainee, had boasted under oath in a pre-trial hearing that in an effort to get him to talk he told Khadr a story about “four big black guys” that raped an uncooperative Afghan detainee.
“That story scared me very much and made me cry,” he wrote. “I know it doesn’t change what I did. But I hope you will think about it when punishing me.”
“Send him back to Canada,” Jackson concluded, asking the jury to consider the eight years Khadr has already spent here. “There’s going to be no good in keeping him here. Send him home.”
Only if the jury hands down a sentence that is less than eight years will their decision be anything than just the message Groharing urged them to deliver.
Khadr has reportedly been given a plea deal that will sentence him to one more year here before he can apply to server the remainder of his sentence in Canada.
He is entitled to a lesser sentence under the military commission rules.
Jurors will not resume deliberations until Sunday afternoon so as to allow them time to go to morning church services.