GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Eight years after he was taken to Guantanamo as a teenage prisoner, a Canadian pleaded guilty Monday to killing a U.S. Army sergeant during a battle in Afghanistan in a deal that will send him home in a year to serve his sentence.
Defenders say Omar Khadr, who was 15 at the time of his capture, was a "child soldier" pushed into becoming an al-Qaida fighter by his father, an associate of Osama bin Laden.
The plea deal ends a widely criticized trial that made the United States the first Western nation since World War II to prosecute a child offender for alleged war crimes. The exact terms were not disclosed, but Khadr's sentence was reportedly capped at eight years, in addition to time already spent at the Guantanamo detention camp.
The now 24-year-old prisoner, who was seriously wounded when he was seized in a gunbattle in 2002, admitted throwing a grenade that killed a medic during a raid on an al-Qaida compound. He also pleaded guilty to building and planting roadside bombs and receiving weapons training from al-Qaida. He is the last Western detainee at Guantanamo.
The Toronto-born Khadr's trial had been scheduled to start Monday, and he faced a possible life sentence.
The chief military prosecutor, Navy Capt. John F. Murphy, said the government welcomed the deal, which was initiated by the defense, because it removes any doubt about Khadr's guilt.
"What you saw puts a lie to the long-standing argument by some that Omar Khadr is a victim," Murphy told reporters in an aircraft hangar near the courthouse on the U.S. base in Cuba.
Khadr did not explain why he changed his plea, though Dennis Edney, one of his Canadian attorneys, said it was a "very, very difficult" decision made only because Canada agreed to repatriate him after a year.
Khadr faces a sentencing hearing that begins today before a military jury.
The conviction was the fifth at the military tribunals, including three in plea bargains, and was the first under President Barack Obama. There is now only one more active case, though the military has said dozens of the 174 remaining prisoners could be charged.