Guantanamo detainee’s request for key witness OKd

Prosecutors must make available a military commander who allegedly altered a report to cast blame on their client for the killing of a U.S. soldier.

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — The Army judge presiding over the war-crimes trial of Canadian Omar Khadr ordered prosecutors to turn over to defense lawyers documents and interrogation notes, and to make available a key witness.

The judge, Col. Peter E. Brownback III, issued his rulings a day after hearing defense appeals for more disclosure from prosecutors in the case against Khadr, 21, who is charged with killing a U.S. Army special forces soldier during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.

Among the witnesses who will be made available by April 4 to Khadr’s attorneys is an Army commander identified only as Lt. Col. W.

Khadr’s Navy lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, has accused military authorities of doctoring evidence to make his client appear guilty. He said in pretrial motions that the Army commander for the Khost region of eastern Afghanistan, Lt. Col. W, reported in July 2002 that the person who threw a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Speer also died in the firefight.

But two months later, Kuebler said, the commander altered his account to say Speer’s attacker was “engaged” by U.S. forces, suggesting that he might still be alive. Defense attorneys now will be able to question the commander about why he changed his account of the incident.

The government contends that Khadr was the only enemy combatant to survive the clash in which Speer suffered wounds that led to his death eight days later.

Defense attorneys also on Friday won access to documents and notes that they hope will reveal the harsh treatment Khadr has endured as a prisoner, and the conditions under which he may have provided statements to U.S. authorities.

Khadr, who was 15 at the time of the clash, was wounded and captured in the confrontation. As a 9- or 10-year-old, he was taken by his militant father from Canada to Afghanistan to visit Al Qaeda training sites.

Kuebler and the other military lawyers assigned to defend Khadr in an earlier commissions process have argued that the suspect should have been treated as a juvenile, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Khadr was taken from the battlefield to the U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, where Kuebler said Khadr was exposed to weeks of harsh treatment by military interrogators before being sent to Guantanamo.

Khadr’s attorneys on Friday also were granted a request to delay the trial because of the protracted dispute over what could be disclosed to the defense team. The judge set no date, but the proceedings will be delayed until at least June.

The judge blamed both prosecution and defense for the delay.

Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times