The U.S. soldier alleged to have been killed in Afghanistan by Canadian Omar Khadr might in fact have been struck by a grenade from a fellow American troop, Khadr's lawyer argued at a pre-trial hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Navy Lt.-Cmdr William Kuebler raised the friendly-fire theory Friday as a U.S. military tribunal heard arguments leading up to Khadr's murder trial.
Khadr, who has been a prisoner at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo for six years, is accused of killing Special Forces Sgt. Christopher Speer during an intense firefight in 2002.
But Kuebler said when American soldiers invaded the suspected al-Qaeda compound where Khadr and others were hiding, some U.S. troops were throwing grenades. Kuebler said Speer might have been hit by an American grenade, not the grenade that Khadr threw.
Kuebler said he uncovered this theory after reviewing written depositions and interviewing at least two soldiers who were present during the firefight.
"When Sgt. Speer was in the compound, these witnesses say that they were throwing hand grenades into the compound," Kuebler told reporters after the hearing.
"We're never going to know exactly what happened in that compound, but what we have is yet another possibility."
But U.S. army Col. Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor on the case, rebuffed the strength of the friendly-fire theory.
"I am quite confident that assertion will be proved groundless should it be raised in court," he said, declining to give more detail.
Trial should start June 1: prosecution
Kuebler asked the court for more time to prepare his case, arguing that he still needs to be granted access to the U.S. interrogators who questioned Khadr after his capture. He also wants access to the written correspondences between Canadian and U.S. government officials.
But prosecutors demanded that the trial begin June 1. They said Kuebler has had more than enough time to prepare and suggested he should spend more time researching, and less time pleading his client's case to the media and international community.
They said Speer's widow, who is raising two children on her own, deserves justice and should not have to suffer through endless delays in the trial.
'He wants to go home'
Before the trial got underway Friday, Kuebler said his client is encouraged by news that he has growing support back in Canada, with human rights groups and legal scholars taking up his case.
The supporters point out that the Toronto-born Khadr was just a child of 15 when he was captured by U.S. soldiers. They say child soldiers are protected by international law and are supposed to be freed and allowed to re-integrate into society. Khadr should be afforded the same rights and released back to Canada, his backers say.
Kuebler said the support gives Khadr hope that he may one day be freed. Khadr had been battling depression in prison, but his mental health now seems to be improving, Kuebler said.
"He's hopeful that something good might happen to him," Kuebler said of Khadr, who is now 21.
"He wants to go home, he wants to be a Canadian citizen, he wants to get an education, he wants to get a job and lead a normal life."
Parent is responsible, Kuebler says
Kuebler said he has told Khadr that the Canadian public as a whole increasingly believes that he was manipulated by his late father, alleged to be an al-Qaeda supporter, who was killed in October 2003 in a firefight with Pakistani forces.
"A parent is responsible for the actions of their child. A parent is responsible for neglecting his child," Kuebler said.
The United States holds about 275 men at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and has said it plans to prosecute about 80 before a special war crimes tribunal. Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, over 700 prisoners have been brought to Guantanamo, but only a handful have ever been charged with an offence.