A Canadian detainee rejected his U.S. military attorneys Monday at the first session of the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals called under President Barack Obama, complicating his high-profile case and the administration's timeline for closing the prison.
Omar Khadr, who is charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan, said he lost trust in his Pentagon-appointed lawyers after witnessing an ugly internal squabble that prompted the pretrial hearing.
"How am I supposed to trust them if they are accusing each other?" said Khadr, 22, who had a full black beard and wore a white prison jumpsuit.
The judge set another hearing next month in a long-running drama that suggests Obama's plan to close the offshore prison by January is overly optimistic.
Obama has pledged to keep the military tribunals for at least some Guantanamo detainees, but the turmoil in a case that was once days away from trial shows how even small issues can stall the system for prosecuting terror suspects. Eleven detainees are facing charges, including five men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks.
"If you think this case is complex, take a peek at the 9/11 cases," said Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel for the Guantanamo tribunals.
Officials say the president will likely need to extend his self-imposed deadline beyond January or move the trials elsewhere. The chief prosecutor for the tribunals, Navy Capt. John Murphy, said this week that his office is providing input on how the system might change if relocated to the United States.
Obama has asked military judge to freeze all pending cases until mid-September as his administration reviews strategy for prosecuting terror suspects. Some are expected to be transferred to U.S. federal court, and Obama is modifying the Guantanamo system with new rules meant to give detainees stronger legal protections.
Murphy said scheduling the next hearing does not go against the freeze because officials are only trying to keep the cases in the same place and ready for prosecution, wherever the government decides to pursue them.
Khadr is accused of killing U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M., with a grenade during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan.
The chief defense counsel, Air Force Col. Peter Masciola, has been trying since April to fire an attorney for Khadr, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, whose aggressive tactics and impromptu news conferences have riled military superiors. The judge called Monday's hearing after Kuebler insisted Masciola can't dismiss him without the trial judge's permission.
Khadr said he wanted to fire all three of his American lawyers. Told he needed to keep one or represent himself, Khadr chose Kuebler. But the detainee said he trusts only his Canadian lawyers and wants to consult them before the next hearing on July 13.
"It's not the first unfairness I'm going through," Khadr said. "I'm expecting more unfairness."
Khadr, the son of a slain al-Qaida financier, was 15 when he was captured following the battle at an al-Qaida stronghold. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted on charges including murder and conspiracy.