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Youngest Gitmo detainee could cut plea deal

The Canadian lawyer for the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay said Thursday that his defense team is working on a deal to avert a trial.
Courtoom sketch of Canadian defendant Khadr in Cuba
In this courtroom sketch, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr attends the first day of his hearing on Aug. 9 at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.Pool / Reuters
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Lawyers are trying to negotiate an agreement under which Guantanamo's youngest captive would plead guilty to terrorism charges in exchange for leniency, one of his lawyers said on Thursday.

A plea deal by Omar Khadr would end a widely criticized trial at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Meanwhile, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, said the trial, which had been set to resume Monday, had been postponed until Oct. 25.

A Canadian citizen and son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, Khadr was captured at age 15 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M., during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

He is the first person since World War II to face prosecution in a war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a juvenile.

"There are negotiations going on but there's no deal and we're not commenting on the details," one of Khadr's Canadian attorneys, Nate Whitling, told Reuters.

The Toronto Globe and Mail said the plea agreement would be finalized in the next few days and would allow Khadr, now 24, to serve most of his sentence in Canada.

Any deal would require agreement from U.S. military prosecutors and the governments of Canada and the United States. The U.S. lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper disputed reports that a deal had already been reached.

"These serious charges would have to be addressed in the U.S.," spokesman Dimitri Soudas told Reuters. "Therefore there is no such agreement."

Harper has steadfastly refused to request the return of Khadr, the last Western detainee held at the prison.

Khadr's trial has been controversial because of his age and the United Nations called it of dubious legality. He was sent to Guantanamo shortly after he turned 16 and has spent more than a third of his life locked up there with adult prisoners.

Khadr said during a pretrial hearing in July that he had rejected a plea deal that would have seen him sentenced to 30 years in prison, with all but five years suspended.

In addition to murder, he is charged with making roadside bombs for use against U.S. forces, conspiring with al-Qaida, providing material support for terrorism and spying on U.S. forces, and could face life in prison if convicted.

The charges were first filed in 2005 and his trial finally began in August but was suspended when his U.S. military lawyer became ill and collapsed in the courtroom during the first day of testimony.

Defense attorneys say Khadr was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an alleged al-Qaida financier whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

The Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.