Guantanamo Tribunal Gears Up For Khadr Trial

The trial of Omar Khadr is set to begin Tuesday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan back in 2002. Khadr was 15 at the time, and is now 23. This is the first trial under the military tribunal system at Guantanamo to take place since President Obama took office. Michele Norris talks to Michelle Shephard, who is covering the trial for the Toronto Star. Shephard is also the author of a book about the case, called Guantanamo's Child.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The first trial of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay since President Obama took office starts tomorrow. The defendant is a young Canadian man named Omar Khadr. He is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan back in 2002. And a judge has ruled his alleged confession is admissible in court.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured. He's now 23. Michelle Shephard is covering the trial for the Toronto Star. She's also written a book about the case. Michelle, welcome to the program. Now, tell us a little more about who Omar Khadr is, his family background.

MICHELLE SHEPHARD: Omar Khadr is a Toronto-born detainee. He's the second-youngest son of Ahmed Said Khadr, who was an Egyptian national who came to Canada, got Canadian citizenship, and during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he went over as a charity worker.

At that time, he met Osama bin Laden and other men. He ended up bringing his family back and forth between Canada, Afghanistan, Pakistan. So Omar and his siblings ended up growing up alongside al-Qaida's elite and their families.

NORRIS: Growing up but being captured at a very young age. His age, he was 15 when he was captured, seems to be one of the reasons that this case is so controversial.

SHEPHARD: His age is a huge factor and the reason that international law experts have condemned the case, saying that essentially it is the first trial of a child soldier since World War II.

NORRIS: And today, the judge ruled that Khadr's confessions can be used as evidence against him. Tell us what this means for this case now.

SHEPHARD: Well, this was a big part of the case. The prosecution wants to use as evidence statements that Omar Khadr made while detained at the Bagram Air Base and then at Guantanamo. And he allegedly confessed to throwing the grenade that killed Delta Force soldier Christopher Speer.

The defense had argued that the statements were unreliable and had to be thrown out as products of torture. The judge in this case has found that not only Khadr's treatment when he was interrogated wasn't torture, but it also wasn't cruel, inhumane or degrading.

NORRIS: This is an important case because of his age, because of questions about due process and because of the timeline, as we said the first trial of a detainee since President Obama took. How will this relate to the other trials for other enemy combatants that might face trial in the future?

SHEPHARD: Well, I think this case is going to be very closely watched. The most important case that I think the Obama administration is worried about at this point is the case against the five men who are accused of conspiring to plan the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama administration announced that that case was going to go to a federal court in New York. Due to the outcry, they backtracked on that. So there's a good chance now that that case could also go before the military commission. And the fact that the Omar Khadr case is the first show case, I think it's going to be watched very carefully, and the credibility of the system is going to be judged.

NORRIS: Khadr is now a young man. Can you tell us a little bit about his demeanor today in court?

SHEPHARD: Well, it's been a really interesting experience for me. This is my 22nd trip here, and along with the other journalists who have covered it over the years, we've literally watched Omar Khadr grow up.

When he first appeared in court, he looked very much like a teenager. The man who was in court Monday is very much a 23-year-old man. He is tall. He's burly. He's got a full beard, and yet his demeanor in court is still rather childish.

He didn't seem to be following the proceedings today and in fact spent most of the time reading a World Cup soccer magazine.

NORRIS: Michelle Shephard, thank you very much.

SHEPHARD: Thank you very much for having me.

NORRIS: Michelle Shephard is covering the trial of Omar Khadr for the Toronto Star. She's also written a book about the case. It's called "Guantanamo's Child."

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