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Youngest detainee at Guantanamo appears in court

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A smiling Omar Khadr appeared in a suit and tie Tuesday and greeted prospective jurors at the start of his trial, billed by defense lawyers as the first war-crimes prosecution of a child soldier since World War II.

Khadr, the Toronto-born son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, is the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo and the only remaining Westerner.

He was 15 when he allegedly hurled a grenade that killed a U.S. Delta Force soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.

The trial will be closely watched as the first under President Barack Obama, whose administration is weighing whether to use the Guan­tanamo courts as a possible venue for dozens of other detainees.

The Canadian, now a bearded and broad-shouldered man of 23, traded his prison garb for a gray suit before the start of jury selection. As his Pentagon-appointed attorney introduced him to the pool of 15 U.S. military officers, Khadr stood and said to them in English: "How are you?"

Once a panel of at least five officers is seated, opening statements are planned for today in a trial expected to last roughly three weeks.

Defense lawyers say Khadr was himself a victim, forced into war by a family with close ties to Osama bin Laden. His father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was an Egyptian-born Canadian citizen and alleged militant killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.

"He's not a real Taliban warrior. He's a kid who was put in an unfortunate situation," said Dennis Edney, a Canadian lawyer for Khadr.

Khadr faces five charges including murder in the death of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., after a battle at an al-Qaida compound on July 27, 2002. Military prosecutors say he also planted explosive devices to kill coalition forces and spied on U.S. troops.

He has pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

The system established by the Bush administration to prosecute terror suspects following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has yielded only three other convictions, including two who have served their sentences and gone home.

Youngest detainee at Guantanamo appears in court 08/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 10, 2010 10:06pm]
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