CBC : U.S. 'manufactured story' on 2002 Afghan gunbattle: Khadr's lawyer

Friday, March 14, 2008

U.S. 'manufactured story' on 2002 Afghan gunbattle: Khadr's lawyer

March 13, 2008

A military commander "retroactively altered" a report of a gunbattle in Afghanistan in 2002 to redirect blame for a U.S. soldier's death to Omar Khadr, Khadr's defence lawyer alleged Thursday.

Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler made the allegation during a pretrial hearing Thursday for the 21-year-old Canadian citizen at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Khadr, who has been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since his 2002 capture during a battle in Afghanistan, is accused of murder in the death of American medic Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer.

Khadr is also charged with spying, conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

Kuebler alleged that in August 2002, one day after the gunbattle involving Khadr, a U.S. on-site commander identified only as "Colonel W" wrote a report on the attack.

In the report, the commander said a U.S. soldier killed a man identified as the suspect in the slaying of Speer, said Kuebler.

However, the report was revised months later, under the same date, to say a U.S. fighter had only "engaged" the assailant, according to Kuebler, who said the later version was presented to him by prosecutors as an "updated" document.

"What we have is, as I said at the outset, is this manufactured story about Omar's participation in the event, or this myth about Omar's participation in the event, which appears to have been manufactured at some point during his detention," Kuebler said.

"And then you have government records, official government records, being retroactively altered to be consistent with that manufactured story."

Prosecutors, who did not contest Kuebler's account in court, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Defence seeks interrogators' names

A U.S. military judge also could decide by Friday whether lawyers for Khadr will be given the names of interrogators who questioned him in Afghanistan, along with other evidence pertaining to his case.

Khadr's legal team is seeking the identities of the interrogators in its attempt to prove the the military tribunal that Khadr was forced into making incriminating statements through torture.

His lawyers have asked for at least 14 items from the Pentagon and U.S. State Department, including the names of his former interrogators.

During questioning at a U.S.-run detention centre at the Bagram air base north of Kabul after his capture, Khadr was quoted as saying he wanted to kill a lot of American soldiers. According to the statement, Khadr said the Taliban were offering a $1,500 bounty for each U.S. soldier.

Court documents later revealed interrogators at the air base used attack dogs and hung prisoners by their wrists.

Khadr's lawyers want the chance to cross-examine the interrogators during the military tribunal. If it is proven Khadr's statement was extracted by torture, his lawyers argue it should be wiped from the record.

They are also asking to see the names of witnesses who were at the Afghan battle in 2002.

Among the evidence they have requested is a report written by a field commander at the battle. The report initially said the fighter who threw the grenade at Speer died that day. Two months later, a line in the report was changed to say the person who killed Speer was alive.
Trial delay likely if request granted

Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, alleges the government is manufacturing evidence against Khadr.

His trial, due to start on May 5, would likely be delayed until the summer if the judge grants Khadr's lawyers' request.

Khadr's lawyers also argue their client should be freed because trying him for crimes he allegedly committed as a minor contravenes international law. He was 15 when he was captured.

The U.S. and Canada are signatories to a United Nations protocol that states fighters under age 18 are to be considered as child soldiers. Under those international obligations, child fighters must be released and helped to reintegrate into society.

Kuebler alleges Khadr has been threatened with rendition to places where he would be raped. Kuebler also said he believes allegations Khadr has been beaten, has had dogs turned on him and is nearly blind. Earlier reports said Khadr is blind in one eye, with deteriorating sight in his other eye.

Last month, a trio of opposition MPs called for Ottawa to intervene in the case.

About 275 men are being held at the military base on suspicion they are linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Thirteen of the prisoners have been charged.

The heavily criticized military tribunal system has yet to complete a trial.

Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture and forbade appeal to an independent court, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised procedure has included some additional rights.
With files from the Associated Press