Saturday, March 15, 2008

Army Judge at Guantanamo serves the administration a large helping of rebuke

Army Judge Colonel Peter Brownback dealt a series of setbacks to the Bush administration and their penchant for show trials on Friday. In successive orders, he made plain that the Pentagon must be more forthcoming and reveal information to the defense team for Omar Khadr, 21, a Canadian citizen who was detained in Afghanistan, accused of throwing the grenade that killed an American soldier during a firefight when he was 15.

Because of his age, his attorneys have argued that he should not be treated as a terrorist, but instead as a child soldier. Khadr was raised in a Canadian family that took him to Afghanistan as a child, and at his father's insistence, he trained at a paramilitary camp operated by al Qaeda.

Colonel Brownback ordered prosecutors to turn over to Khadr's attorneys the names of all American personnel who had any role in interrogating their client, as well as access to all handwritten notes made both in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. He also ordered a commander expected to testify for the prosecution to be available for questioning by the defense team as they prepare for trial.

He also pushed back the trial date from May 5, to allow for additional hearings on admissibility of evidence and to allow the defense time to incorporate the information made available by Friday's orders into their case. No new trial date was set.

It was a huge victory for the attorneys trying to defend Omar Khadr against charges of murder and material support of terrorism.

Pentagon prosecutors had argued before Brownback -- with Khadr watching at the defense table -- that they had already searched available records and interviewed potential witnesses, and had found nothing more to provide in the discovery phase to defense lawyers.

Brownback was not persuaded and had already on Thursday sent prosecutors back to search U.S. State Department communications with Canada, battlefield dispatches and messages around the time of the 2007 firefight and other records.

''We can't try the case until we get the discovery done,'' the judge said. ``So if I have to come down here every week, I'll do it, what the heck.''

Brownback's rulings followed were handed down the day after Khadr's U.S. Navy defense attorney, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, accused a military commander of altering a battlefield report to imply guilt on the part of his client.

The first account, written by an officer present and on the scene, identified only as "LtC W" said that the grenade thrower had been killed in the engagement. Khadr was the only survivor among the insurgent fighters, and he was shot twice. About a week after the skirmish, the soldier wounded by the grenade died at a hospital in Germany from his wounds. After the soldier died, a new version of the battlefield report was written, in which the wording was changed to say only that the grenade thrower was "engaged" - which allowed for blame to be assigned to the only survivor. Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler had obtained the two differing versions of the firefight during pre-trial discovery.

Brownback finished off his rulings by, over the objections of the officer in question, ordering him to submit to pre-trial questioning by April 4. ''The commission finds that the taking and preserving of testimony by LTC W is in the interest of justice,'' Brownback wrote.

The information was handed off to the waiting press as business ended for the day on Friday. I guess that makes this the news dump, huh?