Video: Guantanamo's limbo

Image: Courtroom sketch of Omar Khadr
Janet Hamlin  /  Pool via AP
Canadian defendant Omar Khadr, left, attends his pretrial hearing in the courthouse for the military war crimes commission at the Camp Justice compound on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Monday, Aug. 9.
By Michael Isikoff National investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/11/2010 8:20:15 PM ET 2010-08-12T00:20:15

A veteran U.S. Army officer who agreed with President Barack Obama that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed was excluded from the jury in a U.S. military commission trial Wednesday after prosecutors objected that he had "pre-conceived" views that might jeopardize their case.

The move came as prosecutors and jurors selected a seven-person jury of military officers to hear the case of Omar Khadr, the so-called "child soldier" accused of hurling a hand grenade that killed an American soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan eight years ago.

Khadr, now 23, has spent a third of his life at Guantanamo. He is accused of murder and attempted murder in the first trial before the Obama administration’s revamped military commissions.

During the jury selection process, the Army officer — who described himself as having an academic background in history and foreign policy — was questioned by prosecutor Jeff Groharing as to whether he had any views about Guantanamo.

"I agree with the president: The detention facility should be closed," said the officer, known only as Juror No. 16. (His name, like that of other potential jurors in the case, was not made public.)

Field Notes: Anyone for karaoke at Gitmo tonight?

The controversy surrounding the facility has "eroded America’s moral authority in the world," the officer added, noting that he had lived in Europe, where "the feeling is America lost its status as a beacon of liberty and justice, rightly or wrongly, based on what has gone on here for the last five or six years." Asked to identify the concerns about Guantanamo, the officer mentioned "the length of detention without being brought to trial, torture, rendition and denying ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] access to detainees," citing them as problems that took place during "the early period" of Guantanamo’s existence starting in early 2002.

The Army officer’s views were virtually identical to those repeatedly articulated by Obama during the presidential campaign in 2008, when he called Guantanamo "a sad chapter in American history." When he signed an executive order to shut the facility down last year, the president said he was doing so "to restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great."

But when chief prosecutor Jeff Groharing later had an opportunity to exclude members of the jury pool, he zeroed in on Juror No. 16 and used his one exclusion permitted under military commission rules to keep the Army officer off the jury panel. "It’s clear he has a lot of opinions," Groharing said. “I think he has preconceived ideas that detainees were mistreated."

Image: Omar Khadr
The Canadian Press via AP File
This undated picture shows Omar Khadr before he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

The government’s exclusion of a juror for agreeing with the commander in chief was only the latest of multiple ironies surrounding Khadr’s case. First begun under the Bush administration, the prosecution against Khadr has been vigorously pursued by the military under Obama despite protests by human rights groups that minors should not be tried for war crimes.

It is also likely to revive allegations of detainee abuse that have fueled the controversy over Guantanamo: Khadr, a Canadian citizen whose father was a trusted associate of Osama Bin Laden, has claimed he was treated inhumanely and threatened with being raped while in U.S. military custody, causing him to give a confession that he has since recanted.

Story: Gitmo jury recommends 14-year sentence for bin Laden's cook

The trial has attracted journalists and observers from around the world and has underscored the fact that Obama has been unable to close the prison despite his pledge to do so by January 2010.

The trial gets fully under way Thursday when prosecutors begin laying out their case with opening statements. Khadr’s defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, will follow with his own opening statement.

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Photos: Guantanamo Bay detention center

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  1. A U.S. military guard arrives for work at Camp Delta in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. Two days after his inauguration in January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the facility in one year and review each detainee’s case individually, but he has missed the deadline by months and has struggled to transfer, try or release the remaining detainees. (These pictures have been reviewed by the U.S. military.) (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Detainees prepare to eat lunch at Camp 6 in the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. The U.S. military currently holds 183 detainees at Guantanamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The detention center has held nearly 780 detainees in an assortment of camps that were built to accommodate different levels of security. In Camp 6, detainees spend at least 22 hours a day in single-occupancy cells. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. In this picture, a detainee stands in Guantanamo’s Camp 6, his face obscured by a wire fence. There are strict rules on the publication of photographs of detainees – any distinguishing features or clear pictures of detainees’ faces are not allowed past Guantanamo’s gates. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A detainee reads a magazine in the library at Camp 6. One of the obstacles President Obama faces in shutting down the detention facility is that Congress has blocked funding for a plan that would transfer some detainees to a prison in the United States. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Department of Justice is currently reviewing each detainee’s case individually and categorizing them into three groups: those who face trial, those who will be transferred to detention facilities in other countries, and those who are deemed a danger but cannot released or tried because of sensitive evidence – and must continue to be held. There are 48 detainees in this category. Here, detainees prepare to eat lunch at Camp 6. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. In this photo, a detainee attends a class in "life skills" inside Camp 6. In November 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Sept. 11 suspects would be prosecuted in a federal court in New York City, setting off a heated debate that put the White House on the defense and has forced it to reconsider the plan. The Obama administration has also designated six detainees for trial by military tribunal, including Canadian Omar Khadr, whose trial will be the first at Guantanamo during the Obama presidency. (Brennan Linsley / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. Navy guard prepares to escort a detainee after a "life skills" class in Camp 6. Meantime, the war crimes tribunal convened in Guantanamo on April 28, 2010, to decide what evidence can be used against Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was just 15 when he was detained in Afghanistan in 2002. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Congressional Republicans and some Democrats oppose the plan to prosecute detainees in federal courts because that would give suspects full U.S. legal rights and could lead to the release of dangerous terrorists. Supporters, however, say military courts unfairly limit defendants’ rights and contend that federal courts are just as capable of bringing suspects to justice. In this photo, U.S. Army guards are briefed at the Guantanamo Bay detention center on March 30, 2010. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A U.S. Army soldier patrols past a guard tower at Camp Delta. A final difficulty in closing the detention facility is skepticism about how well some countries would monitor and rehabilitate detainees transferred there – and whether they would be at risk of being recruited into terror networks. Yemen, in particular, is under scrutiny after the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is believed to have been trained by al-Qaida in Yemen. The Obama administration has since suspended all transfers to Yemen. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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