A defense attorney for a Canadian teenager accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan asked the judge on Wednesday to halt proceedings because of a lack of established rules for the military trials.
“Sir, you should halt these proceedings ... until the government gets the rules together,” said Army Capt. John Merriam, an attorney for Omar Khadr, 19.
Shouting and table banging punctuated Wednesday’s hearing at this isolated U.S. military base as the judge, Marine Col. Robert S. Judge, and another of Khadr’s defense attorneys clashed over the lack of rules for the first military tribunals since the World War II era.
Chester said he would rule on Merriam’s request to halt proceedings after he has read relevant material delivered by the defense.
Early in the session, Khadr said he was boycotting the proceedings because he has been kept in solitary confinement since March 30. Chester berated the defense attorney, Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, for not having warned him earlier of the situation.
As the voices grew louder, Vokey banged his hand on a varnished wood table and shouted that he hadn’t had an opportunity to alert the judge.
“Every time we come down here, there is an incredible burden just to do my job,” Vokey shouted. Chester then called a recess.
Vokey and the judge also clashed about trial procedures to bring in a Canadian consulting attorney requested by the Toronto-born Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured.
‘There are no rules here’
Chester asked Vokey if he had filed a brief requesting a Canadian attorney as a consultant. Only lawyers who are U.S. citizens are permitted to directly participate. The judge then told Vokey that even if a brief was filed, he didn’t know if he had the authority to allow a Canadian attorney into the courtroom.
“There are no rules here,” Vokey retorted. “It seems kind of crazy, if the presiding officer doesn’t have the authority to act on it, to go to the presiding officer.”
In a separate hearing Tuesday, Chester refused to say if he would use international law, or military law or federal statutes as guidelines. The chief military prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, later said the judge can use several standards of law “to provide a full and fair trial.”
Khadr has been charged with murder, attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and for planting mines targeted at American convoys.
Chester said the issue of Khadr’s solitary confinement would be addressed later in the week.
“We cannot stop these proceedings every time the accused doesn’t like what he had for breakfast or doesn’t like his confinement,” said a military prosecutor, who cannot be identified under military ground rules to journalists.
Khadr, who has a sparse beard and was dressed in a blue checked shirt, khaki pants and Reebok sneakers, remained in the courtroom as the pretrial hearing continued.
Khadr is accused of killing Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N. M., and wounding Army Sgt. Layne Morris, of West Jordan, Utah in the August 2002 firefight.
The wounded soldier and Speer’s widow filed a civil lawsuit against Khadr and his father, a suspected al-Qaida financier who authorities believe was killed in Pakistan. In February, a judge awarded them $102.6 million in their suit, though they have been unable to collect the judgment and the family’s assets are unknown.
Nearly 500 prisoners are held at this U.S. military base in southeastern Cuba. The U.S. has filed charges against 10 of them.