GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — U.S. military officers were flying in Sunday to serve as jurors in war-crimes proceedings as the Guantanamo tribunal system geared up for one of its busiest weeks under President Barack Obama.
The Pentagon is holding military commission sessions this week for two detainees: a young Canadian going on trial for the slaying of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and a former aide to Osama bin Laden who is to be sentenced after pleading guilty in a deal with prosecutors.
The tribunal system that ground to a halt after Obama took office is coming alive with lawyers, human-rights observers and more than 30 journalists who are at the U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba to attend today's proceedings in two courtrooms.
Obama has introduced some changes designed to extend more legal protections to detainees, but the tribunals' long-term future remains cloudy as the president struggles to fulfill a pledge to close the prison altogether.
The trial for Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, is expected to begin Tuesday following pretrial hearings.
It is to be the first trial under Obama and only the third at Guantanamo, where the system that former President George W. Bush established for prosecuting terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks has faced repeated legal setbacks and challenges.
Khadr is accused of lobbing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M., during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy and spying.
His lawyers deny he threw the grenade and argue that Khadr, the last Westerner at Guantanamo, deserves leniency because he was only 15 when he was captured. They contend the prosecution rests on confessions extracted following abuse that included sleep deprivation and threats of rape.
In the other case, a military panel will begin deliberations as early as today on a sentence for Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, a Sudanese detainee who pleaded guilty in July to one count each of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.
Qosi was accused of acting as accountant, paymaster, supply chief and cook for al-Qaida during the 1990s when the terrorist network was centered in Sudan and Afghanistan. He allegedly worked later as a bodyguard for bin Laden.
The 50-year-old from Sudan faced a potential life sentence if convicted at trial.
Both detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2002.