Gov’t pulls witness in Gitmo case against Canadian

Military prosecutors have withdrawn a government witness in an upcoming Guantanamo war-crimes trial to conceal evidence of “abuse and mistreatment” of the defendant, his Pentagon-appointed lawyer alleged Sunday.

The witness, a U.S. agent whose identity is protected, was scheduled to testify that Canadian-born Omar Khadr – charged with killing a U.S. soldier – made a self-incriminating statement during a December 2004 interrogation, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who represents Khadr.

The defense says the statement was extracted by coercion, an example of the kinds of abuse Khadr has endured since he became a prisoner in 2002.

Military officials did not immediately respond to calls and e-mails for comment.

Prosecutors dropped the witness and the incriminating statement to block any discussion of abuse, the attorney said.

“They will argue that since they are not relying on the December 2004 statement, we do not need to introduce evidence bearing Omar’s mistreatment between February 2003 and December 2004,” Kuebler said Sunday. “Some of the most brutal treatment of Omar stems from this time.”

Khadr’s defense team says he endured isolation, stress positions and sleep deprivation to soften him up for interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr was 15 when he allegedly killed Delta Force soldier Chris Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan 2002. The son of an al-Qaida figure, Khadr was seriously wounded in the battle.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Friday, and Khadr’s war-crimes trial is set for late January. He faces life in prison.

But President-elect Barack Obama has raised doubt about the future of the war-crimes tribunals at the remote naval station in Cuba. Obama has pledged to close the military prison, though he has not yet revealed how he will handle prosecuting the terror suspects housed there.

Critics say the tribunal system is too political and allows coerced statements and hearsay as evidence.

AP News