Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Military commission or comedy show?

If I ever wondered whether I was being too harsh when I called the Guantanamo military commission "kangaroo courts," the story of Omar Khadr's hearing on Monday would disabuse me of any scruples.

Khadr is a 22 year old Canadian citizen who was taken to Afghanistan by his fundamentalist father before 2001. He has been charged with throwing a grenade and killing a soldier during the U.S. invasion. He has been locked up in Guantanamo since he was 15.

Many in Canada consider Khadr simply a "child soldier," not a responsible actor in a war or crime, but an involuntary conscript of adults. Their media have consistently covered his story in humane detail.

Today Steve Edwards, a Canwest News correspondent currently reporting from Guantanamo, wrote up the latest legal round in the Canadian National Post "Full Comment" blog. This is hard to excerpt because Edward's extensive account can make little sense of the bizarre proceedings, but here's a taste:

Omar Khadr's military defence team is in disarray after the Canadian-born terror suspect told a military judge he wanted to fire them all because they'd been squabbling for months.

"How am I supposed to trust them if they are accusing each other?" said Khadr, who is charged in the death of a U.S. solider in a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. "It's not my mistake my U.S. lawyers have been [in] conflict."

Khadr complained of the "unfairness" of the process as army Col. Patrick Parrish, presiding since last year in the Guantanamo Bay case, told him he couldn't get rid of them all -- even if he wanted to represent himself. But the judge said he would grant Khadr's request for time to speak with his Canadian lawyers for advice.

In an extraordinary move, he also praised Khadr, now 22, after the accused terrorist said his U.S. team had argued in front of him as recently as that morning

"Mr. Khadr is simply coming across as dignified and very well spoken," Parrish said, implicitly comparing his in-court demeanor to the infighting over the case at the Pentagon's defence-attorney office for Guantanamo prosecutions.

Go read it all. Apparently Guantanamo authorities tried to replace a lawyer Khadr trusted with a new guy. The first attorney objected. Proceedings devolved into a near brawl.

The episode is simply one more demonstration of why it is foolishness to try to invent a new legal apparatus and system of procedure to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners. It would be funny if it weren't about people we've caged for as long as seven years without trial -- and often abused.

Try these people in real courts or let them go.


Darlene said...

Amen! If we are ever to regain our standing in the world we must close Guantanamo and apply the rule of law to those who are incarcerated there.
Fair and open trials must be held.

Nell said...

Another account via Andy Worthington, which makes a bit more sense of the chaotic farce, without losing any sense of it as an unjust chaotic farce.

There needs to be one hell of a lot more housecleaning in the corners of the DoD overseeing detentions and these kangaroo courts.

But of course, there won't be, because Obama appears to have been won over to imitating the previous administration in going around the existing courts with his own ad hoc system of schmustice. Only he wants us all to participate, so it'll be "legal" and "democratic". No sale, Mr. President.

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