Testimony ends in Guantanamo ‘child soldier’ case

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba—Testimony ended Friday in the sentencing hearing for a former teenage al-Qaida fighter with the defendant asking a jury to consider that U.S. interrogators allegedly suggested he could be raped in prison.

A lawyer for Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, read a statement from the defendant as their final piece of evidence. It described an incident shortly after his capture in Afghanistan in 2002 in which interrogators told him a fictional story about an uncooperative Afghan youth who was sent to an American prison and raped.

“I know it does not change what I did, but I hope you will think about it when you punish me,” Khadr said. “This story scared me very much, and made me cry.”

At the time, Khadr was hospitalized from serious wounds, including two gunshots to the torso and shrapnel in his eye, from a four-hour firefight with U.S. forces at an al-Qaida compound in southeastern Afghanistan.

Khadr’s lawyers previously disclosed the story about the rape threat as they sought unsuccessfully to prevent prosecutors from using the prisoner’s statements to interrogators, arguing that it was part of a broader pattern of abusive treatment that amounted to illegal coercion. But the judge said there was no credible evidence of coercion.

Khadr, now 24, pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges including murder for throwing a grenade that mortally wounded Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. The jury of seven military officers is expected to begin deliberating his sentence Saturday.

Under the rules of the military tribunals, Khadr’s sentence is capped at a length of time specified in a still-sealed plea bargain agreement. It is reportedly eight years, and he is to be transferred back to his native Canada after one more year at Guantanamo.

Khadr’s defenders say he was a child soldier pushed into militancy by his radical father and should have been sent home long ago for rehabilitation. But prosecutors charged him with war crimes, arguing that he was not a legitimate soldier when he was part of an al-Qaida explosives cell in Afghanistan.

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