Psychological assessment of Omar Khadr critical to defence, lawyers say

A Canadian detained in Guantanamo Bay cannot get a fair trial for war crimes without a proper psychological assessment, his lawyer said Wednesday.

A Canadian detained in Guantanamo Bay cannot get a fair trial for war crimes without a proper psychological assessment, his lawyer said Wednesday.

As a result, Omar Khadr's trial, now slated to start Nov. 10 before a military commission at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, should be put on hold, lawyer Nate Whitling said in an interview from Edmonton.

The pre-trial motion heard this week in Guantanamo by commission Judge Col. Patrick Parrish says an assessment would, among other things, look at the impact of maltreatment and torture during his arrest and detention.

"It's pretty obvious that that has to happen," said Whitling, whose colleagues were down in Guantanamo before Parrish seeking an indefinite postponement.

"Surely, we can't start the trial until [the assessment is] completed. It would hinder our ability to raise a defence in terms of the admissibility of [his] statements and also his culpability."

The Americans accuse Khadr, who is now 22, of throwing a hand grenade that killed a U.S. medic during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was just 15.

The assessment would also cover Khadr's ability to participate fully in his defence by being able to understand the legal issues and assert his rights, his ability to remember things, the impact of being a child soldier in a combat situation, and his capacity for rehabilitation.

Fighting every step of way

Parrish has recognized the need for such an assessment, which the Canadian government has long insisted take place.

"It's pretty obvious that the only reason it hasn't been completed until now is because the [U.S.] government has been fighting us every step of the way," Whitling said.

Katherine Porterfield, a psychologist chosen by the defence team, has told the lawyers that she needs another 35 to 40 more hours of face-to-face time with him to form a proper opinion.

However, it's not clear when the New York-based Porterfield, who has been trying to build a rapport with him, would be able to get down to Cuba to talk to Khadr.

"He's still traumatized," Whitling said. "He's having real trouble talking about what happened to him."

Khadr's lawyers also want to argue that statements he gave after his capture should be suppressed given the circumstances in which he made them.

Harper has refused to allow repatriation

Previously released documents show, among other things, that Khadr was deprived of sleep, held in stress positions, and threatened.

While the trial is slated to start in little over two weeks, the defence team is hoping Parrish will put an indefinite hold on the proceedings, which have been sharply criticized by much of the international community.

He is the only westerner still held at the widely condemned American prison.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused calls to demand his repatriation pending the disposition of the proceedings.