Last week, Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who is being prosecuted by military commission for crimes he is alleged to have committed as a teenager, fired his lawyers. Yesterday, now-unbanned Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg reports that Khadr also rejected a plea deal in which he would serve five more years at Gitmo and the rest in Canada, while the judge ultimately refused to allow Khadr to represent himself:
Khadr stirred controversy throughout the day about his willingness and ability to defend himself. In the end, [Judge] Parrish instructed the Canadian's Pentagon appointed counsel, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, to defend Khadr over the captive's objections.
``I'm not going to allow an unrepresented accused in here. That's not going to happen,'' the judge said. ``I want to make sure the proceedings are fair to Mr. Khadr -- whether he boycotts or not.''
Marcy Wheeler has transcribed Khadr's reasons for wanting to boycott the proceedings, which closely resemble the criticisms of human-rights activists. The ACLU released a statement from human-rights researcher Jennifer Turner, who is currently at Gitmo, calling for the administration to shut down the commissions.
The Obama administration should shut down the illegitimate military commissions system that has become a stain on our nation's reputation and prosecute terrorism suspects in the time-tested federal criminal courts. The commissions system is unfit to try any Guantánamo detainee, especially an alleged child soldier who has been held in U.S. custody for over a third of his life and subjected to years of abuse. Omar Khadr, like all Guantánamo terrorism suspects, should be tried in federal courts that guarantee due process. If that isn’t possible, the U.S. must send him home to Canada.
Out of the four military-commissions proceedings that have concluded, only al-Qaeda propagandist Ali al-Bahlul boycotted the proceedings. His may have been the most serious case tried, but his decision to boycott also ultimately left him with a life sentence, a far harsher outcome than the other two individuals sentenced through the military commissions (the most recent convict has yet to be sentenced). Of course in that situation, al-Bahlul's attorney, David Frakt, had agreed to al-Bahlul's request not to challenge the government's case. It's unclear how Khadr's lawyer will proceed.
Khadr's charges are also very serious -- he's facing five charges including murder, having been accused of killing a Special Forces officer, Christopher Speer. Khadr also seems to have resigned himself to being convicted -- Rosenberg reported that he told the judge it didn't matter whether he represented himself or not, because "I'm going to get a life sentence either way.''
The case is an awkward one for the administration, which has faced direct pressure from the right to convict Khadr because of his alleged involvement in Speer's death, and criticism from the international community over prosecuting someone the UN has described as a child solder.