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Khadr trial begins

The BCCLA National Security Blog’s returned from her summer holidays in time for the start of the Omar Khadr trial, scheduled to start today after the close of jury selection, which started yesterday. A jury comprised of members of the US military will be empanelled to determine the charges against Mr. Khadr, and if he is convicted, his sentence.  This isn’t exactly of a jury of his “peers”, especially in a case where the accused is alleged to have killed a member of the US military, but according to the Globe and Mail, Gary Solis is optimistic:

Gary Solis, a retired military judge and military law instructor who’s observing Mr. Khadr’s trial for the National Institute for Military Justice, said in some ways, this jury could give Mr. Khadr a better shot at acquittal or a lighter sentence.

“The difference between a military jury and a civilian jury is substantial and very significant. A military jury is better educated, usually. … They are experienced in obeying orders – as in, judges’ instructions. And by their very presence in the military, they are committed to something. And I know it sounds hokey but I think that something is the American way: the right to a fair trial.”

Unfortunately, it’s rather hard for us to see how even the most right-thinking juror can help guarantee Mr. Khadr’s right to a fair trial when the very process through which Mr. Khadr is being tried is far from fair.

Numerous human rights observers are on the ground in Guantanamo, including Alex Neve from Amnesty International Canada, whose blog we will be following and one we commend to our readers. On Monday, Mr. Neve reported on the military commission’s rulings to admit evidence obtained by “clean team” interrogators.  (Readers of these pages will know that the BCCLA believes that the use of clean team evidence is highly problematic and should not be permitted.)

Last ditch efforts to halt the start of the trial — the first time a child soldier has been prosecuted for war crimes since Nuremberg — have been unsuccessful.  Last week, Mr. Khadr’s military lawyer petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to halt the proceedings, arguing that the trial by military commission is illegal because the process only applies to non-citizens.  SCOTUS refused to hear the case.  And yesterday, the U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflict again called for a halt to the military commission proceedings against Mr. Khadr, to no avail.

So, as the ACLU observes, the Obama administration makes history, though it is history of the most dubious sort.