Guantanamo Bay, Asharq Al-Awsat – Just hours after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, he requested that the military tribunals currently taking place in Guantanamo Bay be suspended for 120 days. The military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay were overseeing the trials of five detainees implicated in the 9/11 attacks, including its alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Omar Khadr, the child soldier accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Although President Obama’s actions may have largely mooted the preceding events of these tribunals, the information revealed in them and their implications are clear.
A US military intelligence officer, identified only as Interrogator 11 testified that the Canadian Omar Khadr admitted during interrogation to throwing a grenade at an approaching US patrol in 2002 outside of the Afghan town of Khost. The US officer said that Khadr, who was then 15 years old, threw a grenade after being injured in an attack on a compound that left him partially blinded, and which killed three other members of a militia. Interrogator 11 said, “It was the first time that he had thrown a hand grenade.”
Pentagon officials questioned Omar Khadr, who was born in Toronto, approximately 12 times since his arrival at the prison six years ago, with some interrogation sessions lasting around five hours. The Pentagon accuses Omar Khadr of throwing the grenade that killed US Sergeant Chris Speer outside the city of Khost in Afghanistan on 27 July 2002.
Interrogator 11 described how Khadr, who is now 22 years of age, was found in the rubble of the compound and had been shot three times in the back in a battle [with US forces] that lasted four hours. The US military intelligence officer also described the early interrogation sessions with Khadr in which he expressed his pride at killing an American soldier, and also realized that it was the Americans who saved his life. Khadr’s defense claimed that this confession was made under duress.
Khadr’s defense lawyers also attempted to prevent the Presiding Officer over Khadr’s military tribunal, Judge Colonel Patrick Parrish, from using statements made by Khadr whilst being interrogated as he was only 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda. Khadr sat in the front row during the tribunal, and wore a white robe such as those that are worn by detainees in Camp 4 of Guantanamo Bay. Khadr looks very different now from the infamous picture of him taken when he was just 15 years old.
In a surprise move, the prosecution submitted a 27-minute video to the military tribunal provided by Special Agent Robert Fuller of the FBI who questioned Khadr six times at Bagram Airbase before Khadr was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. The video, which was found by US forces in a raid on a house in Khost and which has previously been broadcast on US television program 60 minutes, shows Omar Khadr participating in the manufacturing of explosive devices under the supervision of Abu Haitham al Yemeni. The tape goes on to show two men, one named Abu Yaman and the other named Abdullah digging at a roadside and planting an explosive device. A voiceover in the tape says, “The operation was completed [successfully] thanks to the grace of God.”
Agent Fuller testified that Khadr confessed to training in the camp of Abu Musab al Suri, who had good relations with his Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, the Al Qaeda financier who was killed in the Afghanistan border region in 2003. Fuller said that Omar Khadr met Al Qaeda leaders such as [Ayman] al Zawahri, Abu Hafs al Masri [AKA Mohammed Atef], Seif al Adel, Abu Khubab al Masri, Abu Ibrahim, Abu al Laith al Libi, and Abu Zubaida.
Omar Khadr’s lawyers confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that they did not consider this video evidence, and it can easily be challenged since their client was only 15 years old at the time.
Prior to the suspension of the tribunal, Khadr’s lawyers were expected to call for the testimony of former PFC Damien M. Corsetti who was stationed at Bagram Airbase during Khadr’s imprisonment and who would confirm that Khadr was tortured and forced to make statements under duress. Corsetti interrogated the prisoner a number of times before he was sent to Guantanamo in 2002, and questioned Khadr at least once while he was recuperating in bed from injuries. Khadr was scheduled to appear before the court on 26 January 2009.
The Bush administration had previously attempted to make it more difficult for newly elected President Obama to suspend the tribunals by withdrawing and re-filing the charges in about 20 cases. Susan Crawford, who was appointed by the Bush administration as the convening authority for the Guantanamo Military Commission, withdrew charges on 17 December 2008 only to re-draft and re-file them on 2 January 2009.
The five men accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were also being tried by military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Walid Bin Attash, had previously pleaded guilty in this case, only to recant after the guilty pleas of Ramzi Bin al Shibh and Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi’s were not accepted due to mental competency issues.
The five men were being tried for involvement in the 9/11 attacks, four of whom had decided to represent themselves, while Ali Abdul Aziz AKA Amar Al Baluchi, had asked for more time in order to make a final decision with regards to his legal representation. The military prosecution had said that Khalid Sheikh Mohamed had already confessed to being the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks which killed 2973 people. While it is believed that Ramzi Bin al Shibh acted as a mediator between the terrorist cell and the Al Qaeda organization, US intelligence officials also testified that al Shibh was originally supposed to be one of the hijackers, however he failed to obtain a visa granting him entry to the USA.
Of the 780 prisoners to have been detained in Guantanamo Bay only three have been convicted thus far; David Hicks, and the two Yemenis Salim Hamdan and Ali Al Bahlu.
The eyes of the world are now on President Barack Obama, whose suspension of these military tribunals seems to confirm that he will keep his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay. As for Omar Khadr, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and the other four detainees, perhaps they will be seeing the inside of a courtroom sooner than they think.