khadr_omar-cp-file

Omar Khadr, seen in this photo from 2002, was born in Toronto but has lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His late father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was a close associate of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

A military commander "retroactively altered" a report of a gun battle in Afghanistan in 2002 to redirect blame for a U.S. soldier's death to Omar Khadr, Khadr's defence lawyer alleged Thursday.

Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler made the allegation during a pretrial hearing Thursday for the 21-year-old Canadian citizen at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Khadr, who has been held at the Guantanamo Bay facility since his 2002 capture during a battle in Afghanistan, is accused of murder in the death of American medic Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer.

Khadr is also charged with spying, conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

Kuebler alleged that on July 28, 2002, one day after the gun battle involving Khadr, a U.S. on-site commander identified only as "Colonel W" wrote a report on his soldiers' attack on the compound where Khadr and three other Islamist fighters were holed up.

In the report, the commander said a U.S. soldier killed a man identified as the suspect in the slaying of Speer, said Kuebler. 

However, the report was revised months later, under the same date, to say a U.S. fighter had only "engaged" the assailant, according to Kuebler, who said the later version was presented to him by prosecutors as an "updated" document.

"What we have is, as I said at the outset, is this manufactured story about Omar's participation in the event, or this myth about Omar's participation in the event, which appears to have been manufactured at some point during his detention," Kuebler said.

"And then you have government records, official government records, being retroactively altered to be consistent with that manufactured story."

Prosecutors, who did not contest Kuebler's account in court, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kuebler said one possible reason for the alleged alteration is that at the time, the Canadian government was pressing the Pentagon for answers about Khadr, his condition and why he was being held.

"There is a story generated to respond to those allegations; it turns out we now know that the story was false," Kuebler told reporters Thursday. "The most important fact is that responsible official that day went back and retroactively revised the record to reflect the reality that was most convenient to the United States at the time."

Defence seeks interrogators' names

Col. Peter Brownback, the U.S. military judge overseeing Khadr's trial, said he would decide by late Friday whether the defence team will be given the names of interrogators who questioned Khadr in Afghanistan, along with other evidence pertaining to his case.

Khadr's legal team is seeking the identities of the interrogators, as well hundreds of pages of notes they wrote during the interrogations, in its attempt to prove to the military tribunal that Khadr was forced into making incriminating statements through torture. 

His lawyers have asked for at least 14 items from the Pentagon and U.S. State Department, including the names of his former interrogators.

During questioning at a U.S.-run detention centre at the Bagram air base north of Kabul after his capture, Khadr was quoted as saying he wanted to kill a lot of American soldiers. According to the statement, Khadr said the Taliban were offering a $1,500 bounty for each U.S. soldier.

Court documents later revealed interrogators at the air base used attack dogs and hung prisoners by their wrists.

Khadr's lawyers want the chance to cross-examine the interrogators during the military tribunal. If it is proven Khadr's statement was extracted by torture, his lawyers argue it should be wiped from the record.

They are also asking to see the names of witnesses who were at the Afghan battle in 2002.

Among the evidence they have requested is a report written by a field commander at the battle. The report initially said the fighter who threw the grenade at Speer died that day. Two months later, a line in the report was changed to say the person who killed Speer was alive.

Trial delay likely if request granted

For the most part, Brownback seemed to feel the defence requests were reasonable, the CBC's Bill Gillespie reported from the proceedings. 

But the judge was also clearly concerned that tracking down the new documents would push Khadr's scheduled May 5 trial date into the summer or even later.

Khadr's lawyers also argue their client should be freed because trying him for crimes he allegedly committed as a minor contravenes international law. He was 15 when he was captured.

The U.S. and Canada are signatories to a United Nations protocol that states fighters under age 18 are to be considered as child soldiers. Under those international obligations, child fighters must be released and helped to reintegrate into society.

Kuebler alleges Khadr has been threatened with rendition to places where he would be raped. Kuebler also said he believes allegations Khadr has been beaten, has had dogs turned on him and is nearly blind. Earlier reports said Khadr is blind in one eye, with deteriorating sight in his other eye.

Last month, a trio of opposition MPs called for Ottawa to intervene in the case.

About 275 men are being held at the military base on suspicion they are linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Thirteen of the prisoners have been charged.

The heavily criticized military tribunal system has yet to complete a trial.

Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture and forbade appeal to an independent court, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised procedure has included some additional rights.

With files from the Associated Press