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A U.S. military approved courtroom sketch from Omar Khadr's last hearing in May shows the young Canadian detainee seated, third from left, while his legal team makes an argument in front of the former judge, Col. Peter Brownback. ((Janet Hamlin/CBC))

Canadian Omar Khadr was told by a military judge Thursday at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that his trial on war crimes charges will begin on Oct. 8.

The judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, said the date for trial by the controversial military commissions process can be changed for legal reasons if necessary.

Khadr, 21, faces up to life in prison if convicted on charges of killing a U.S. army medic with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was 15 years old at the time.

Parrish was presiding over Khadr's pre-trial hearing for the first time.

The Toronto-born detainee's military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, has accused the Pentagon of making last month's surprise change in judges to speed the process of getting his client to trial.

The last judge, Col. Peter Brownback, who had been on the case from the outset, was more concerned with following legal procedure, and leery of many aspects of the prosecution case, Kuebler has alleged.

Kuebler said Parrish has been described in an internet posting as "rocket docket" and has been parachuted in to get his client to trial before President George W. Bush leaves the White House early next year, something his predecessor, Brownback, was in no hurry to do.

"It'll be interesting to see if they [the U.S. military] get a different answer from Col. Parrish," Kuebler said. "If they do, then they've got their man."

The Pentagon has said Parrish's appointment was simply a scheduled rotation in personnel.

Judges grants defence request

The CBC's Bill Gillespie, at Guantanamo Bay to cover Khadr's court appearance, said the new judge has granted a long-standing request by Khadr's lawyers for access to interrogation manuals used at the U.S. military detention centre at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where the Canadian was first detained after his arrest in 2002.

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Prosecutors have been refusing defence requests for the documents, saying they contained sensitive information.

"The defence says [Khadr's] confession [at Bagram] was extracted under torture," Gillespie said, "and the judge told the prosecution you have 10 days to hand over those documents."

The case was supposed to begin Wednesday, but earlier this week, Kuebler asked for a delay, saying his client was suffering from dizziness.

In an unusual move, the military authorities at Guantanamo Bay released results of their own medical examination of the young Canadian detainee, saying in a statement on Wednesday that he was not suffering from any ill health or medical problems.

"Khadr stated he had no complaints," the statement said. "The [U.S. military] physician conducted an examination and found the detainee to be in good health with no complaints or problems."

Future of entire process in doubt

Khadr's appearance comes just a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners at Guantanamo, all foreign nationals suspected of involvement in attacks on U.S. forces abroad, or affiliation with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, can challenge their detention in U.S. federal court.

Khadr's legal team hasn't said how they intend to use the decision, but Kuebler says he's considering taking his client's case before a federal judge in the U.S., which last week's ruling permits.

"It creates the basis on which the federal courts could intervene and stop the … process," he said.

CBC's Gillespie says the U.S. Supreme Court has potentially derailed the entire process of trying Guantanamo detainees in so-called military commissions, which critics say restrict the legal rights of defendants.

Both men running in November's U.S. presidential election, Barack Obama and John McCain, have said they would close Guantanamo Bay's detention facilities if elected.

Some 270 detainees are still held there, of whom just 14 have been charged with a crime.

Khadr is the only remaining Westerner being held at the base, but Canadian governments have consistently refused to press for his return to this country, as Britain and Australia have done successfully with their own nationals who were once detained at Guantanamo Bay.