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Lawyer: ‘Friendly fire’ may have killed soldier

A U.S. soldier who died in a firefight in Afghanistan may have been killed accidentally by his comrades — not by a young Canadian, a military defense lawyer said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A U.S. soldier who died in a firefight in Afghanistan may have been killed accidentally by his comrades — not by a young Canadian facing a war crimes trial at Guantanamo, a military defense lawyer said Friday.

The accounts of other U.S. troops interviewed by attorneys for Omar Khadr suggest that someone other than prisoner could have thrown the grenade that killed the soldier, said the lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler.

The U.S. government insists Khadr threw the grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a Special Forces soldier from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Canadian, who was 15 at the time of the firefight, faces life in prison if convicted of charges that include murder.

Kuebler said he knows of no physical evidence that would confirm that so-called friendly fire killed Speer, but other U.S. soldiers recalled throwing grenades around the time the he was killed in July 2002.

Eyewitness accounts
"When Sgt. Speer was in the compound, these witnesses say that they were throwing hand grenades into the compound," Kuebler told reporters.

The chief prosecutor for the tribunals, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, declined to discuss the defense theory in detail, but added, "I am quite confident that assertion will be proved groundless should it be raised in court."

Kuebler briefly mentioned the possibility of friendly fire during a pretrial hearing and later spoke in detail in a news conference.

"We're never going to know exactly what happened in that compound, but what we have is yet another possibility," he said.

Khadr's defense has previously noted inconsistencies in accounts of the assault on the compound near Khost, Afghanistan. Prosecutors counter that it's natural for soldiers to have incomplete memories of a firefight.

No trial date set
A prosecutor, Marine Corps Maj. Jeffrey Groharing, urged a judge to set a trial date for Khadr, citing a need for justice on behalf of Speer's widow and children.

"There are real victims in this case and it is not the accused," Groharing told the court. "Tabitha Speer is raising two children without her husband because of the acts of the accused."

Khadr, one of about 80 Guantanamo prisoners who the military says will face war crimes trials at Guantanamo, also is charged with conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

His lawyer said it would be a "grave injustice" to sentence him to life in prison: "Our sympathies go out to Mrs. Speer ... but Omar Khadr was a 15-year-old boy who if he did everything the government says he did was simply defending himself in combat against U.S. forces."

The raid of the compound by a team of Special Forces soldiers and other U.S. fighters followed a four-hour bombardment by U.S. warplanes. In a hail of gunfire, a small group stormed the complex and quickly shot Khadr and another man, according to witnesses.

Khadr was treated for his wounds and was taken to Guantanamo after four months in U.S. custody at Bagram, Afghanistan. The other man shot with him in the raid was killed.