Widow to Guantanamo prisoner: You are a murderer

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A tearful but defiant Army widow addressed her husband’s killer Thursday, dismissing any suggestion that the actions of the former teenage al-Qaida militant should be excused because of his age.

Tabitha Speer spoke to Omar Khadr from the witness stand at the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal and said he made a choice to stay and fight at the al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan where her husband, a special forces medic, was mortally wounded by a grenade that the prisoner has admitted throwing during a four-hour firefight in 2002.

“My husband was a good man,” Speer said. “You will forever be a murderer in my eyes.”

Defenders of the Toronto-born Khadr, the last Western prisoner at the U.S. base in Cuba, argue that consideration should be given to the fact that he was only 15 at the time of his capture.

But the widow reminded Khadr, and the military jury considering his sentence, that he had an opportunity to escape the compound with other children and women who were permitted by U.S troops to leave at the start of the battle.

“You had your choice and you stayed,” she told him in an hour of often emotional testimony that left some audience members in tears as photos of her dead husband and his two young children were played on a screen in the front of the courtroom.

Khadr bowed his head at the defense table and did not look up as the widow spoke to him. Later, he apologized to her in an unsworn statement, a maneuver that allowed him to address the court without having to face questions from the prosecution yet still make his most extensive public comments since his capture.

“I’m really, really sorry for the pain I’ve caused you and your family,” said Khadr, standing in the witness stand. “I wish I could do something that would take away your pain.”

As he spoke, Speer gripped the armrests of her chair and shook her head. After he stepped down, and the jury had left the room, she cried and hugged a victim’s representative who has accompanied her to the court sessions.

Khadr has pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges, avoiding a trial that could have resulted in a life sentence and ending what has been one of the most heavily scrutinized Guantanamo war crimes cases.

The widow also spoke directly to the jury of seven military officers and urged them not to be swayed by arguments that Khadr, the son of an al-Qaida leader who was groomed for militancy from an early age, deserves special consideration.

“Everyone wants to say he’s the child, he’s the victim,” Speer said. “I don’t see that. My children are the victims.”

Khadr, now 24, admitted killing her husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, as part of his plea deal. He also acknowledged placing 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan and spying on U.S. convoys to assess the best ways to attack them. Prosecutors said Khadr was a terrorist and war criminal — a claim challenged by critics of the tribunals — because he was not a legitimate soldier in the battle.

Terms of the plea agreement have not yet been released. The jury has not been told the deal reportedly limits the sentence to eight more years in custody. Khadr’s sentence will be whichever is less — the jury’s verdict or the amount set in the agreement — and the U.S. has agreed to send him back to Canada after one more year in Guantanamo.

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