Khadr trial delayed after lawyer collapses

The Guantanamo Bay military trial of Omar Khadr will be delayed for 30 days after Khadr's lawyer collapsed in court and must be airlifted to a medical facility in the United States.
Omar Khadr, left, listens to opening statements at his trial. The numbers indicate members of the military commission jury, who are not allowed to be sketched. This sketch was reviewed by the U.S. military. ((Janet Hamlin/Pool/CBC) )

The Guantanamo Bay military trial of Omar Khadr will be delayed for 30 days after Khadr's lawyer collapsed in court and must be airlifted to a medical facility in the United States.

Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson will be sent to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., after he collapsed during testimony Thursday at his Toronto-born client's military commission in Cuba. Jackson, who had gall bladder surgery six weeks ago, collapsed after delivering opening remarks.

At a hearing on Friday, the military judge overseeing the trial called for the trial to be delayed by at least 30 days while Jackson convalesces. While not sequestered in a formal sense, the judge gave the seven-person jury instructions to not read about the case or discuss it between themselves for the duration of the hiatus.

Jackson was cross-examining the U.S. soldier who shot Khadr, then 15, in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he collapsed. He was taken away by ambulance for treatment at a base hospital.

He is scheduled to be airlifted to Walter Reed some time on Friday or Saturday. Proceedings at the trial were immediately recessed and on Friday morning the judge decided for the formal hiatus.

"Col. Jackson came over to the desk as if to say something and turned around, fell on his knee and then collapsed on the floor," Khadr's Canadian legal adviser Denis Edney said.

After Khadr dismissed the rest of his military defence team in July, Jackson became his sole remaining advocate at the trial.

"[We] can't have the trial go on without Lt.-Col. Jackson so it will all depend on when Lt.-Col. Jackson is medically cleared to come back into that courtroom," the commission's deputy chief defence counsel Bryan Broyles said.

Nathan Whitling, a member of Khadr's Canadian defence team, agreed with that assessment. "If, for some reason, John cannot continue there would be a real problem … someone would need at least a year or two to get up to speed on this," he said. "I'm not his doctor but I suspect the stress of the whole situation contributed to this."

As for Khadr himself, "[Jackson's] health is his main concern, as it is with all of us right now," Whitling said.

Defence case presented

The dramatic developments came near the end of a day in which both the defence and prosecution laid out the broad strokes of their cases.

Jackson said in the morning session that his client didn't kill a U.S. soldier and there is no forensic evidence to prove he did.

"Omar Khadr did not kill Sgt. Speer," Jackson said, referring to Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, who died after a grenade exploded during the firefight.

Khadr, 23, is accused of throwing the deadly grenade, and is being tried on five charges, including murder in violation of the laws of war.

Jackson argued that Khadr did not throw the grenade and was at the scene of the firefight only because his father, Ahmed Khadr, told him to be there.

"He was there because Ahmed Khadr hated his enemies more than he loved his son."

Khadr only confessed to the crime because he was terrified of his interrogators and was "threatened with rape and murder" during his interrogation, Jackson said.

The prosecution painted a starkly different picture of Khadr in its opening statement, saying Khadr confessed freely to his alleged crimes and was "a terrorist trained by al-Qaeda."

The prosecution also showed a video that it alleged shows Khadr planting improvised explosive devices.

In wrapping up, the prosecution urged the jury to convict Khadr on all charges. Guilty votes from five of the seven members of the military jury are needed for a conviction.

The first prosecution witness, identified only as Col. W., described the day in July 2002 when coalition forces responded to a tip of a militant cell operating from a compound in Khost, Afghanistan.

Following a fierce aerial bombardment, the colonel said special forces went in to try to clear the area. That's when Speer was killed by a grenade that landed at his feet.

"I held his hand for a minute," Col. W. said. "I noticed his eyes were not focused. He was mumbling incoherently. I tried talking to him, tell him things were OK, ask him to hold on."

Speer's widow, who was in court for the trial, was tearful while his death was described.

Khadr 'mumbling' from wounds

Col. W. also described seeing Khadr in the rubble, alongside three dead militants.

"He was mumbling," Col. W. said, describing two gaping wounds in Khadr's upper chest.

The colonel acknowledged that he later changed his initial notes of the incident to refer to a wounded Khadr — a memo in which he had first written that Khadr had been killed.

Khadr looked on impassively during the proceedings. He was dressed in a jacket and tie and appeared with his hair cut and beard trimmed.

Khadr's defenders maintain he was captured as a child soldier and should therefore be given special protection under international law.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured. He is the first person in more than 60 years to face a military tribunal for crimes allegedly committed as a minor.

Amnesty International issued a statement Thursday condemning the trial, referring to "procedures that fail to meet international fair trial standards."

A UN envoy warned Tuesday that Khadr's trial could set a precedent jeopardizing the status of child soldiers around the world. "Child soldiers must be treated primarily as victims," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.

On Wednesday, a jury of seven U.S. military officers — four men and three women whose identities will be shielded — was seated. Eight other potential jurors were excused after prosecution and defence challenges.


  • A previous version of the story incorrectly reported that Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson has already been airlifted to the United States for treatment. In fact, he is due to be airlifted either Friday or Saturday.
    Aug 13, 2010 10:15 AM ET

With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Jennifer Westaway and David Common