Guantanamo Trial To Begin For Youngest Prisoner

Preparations are under way at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the first military tribunal under the Obama administration. The trial of Omar Khadr is expected to start Tuesday. He was captured in Afghanistan and brought to Guantanamo eight years ago when he was just 15. Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, talks to Renee Montagne about Khadr.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Coming up, a profile of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who's now running for parliament in Afghanistan. But first, let's get an update on the case of the youngest Guantanamo detainee. A military court will begin selecting a jury today in the trial of Omar Khadr. He was only 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo Bay.�

For background on the case, we've called New York University's Karen Greenberg. She wrote the book "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days." Good morning.

Ms. KAREN GREENBERG (New York University): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, but remind us how he ended up in Afghanistan and ultimately, in Guantanamo.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, of course some of this will come out in court. But what we know is that he ended up in Afghanistan, actually, with his family, who was involved in a number - allegedly in a number of terrorist-related activities. And he was there as a child, actually, and had been trained to fight. That's how he ended up in Afghanistan. He was apprehended and brought to Guantanamo Bay early in 2002, and he's been there ever since.

MONTAGNE: And charged with - or allegedly tossed a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. So pretty serious charges that he's facing. Yesterday, a military judge ruled that Omar Khadr's confession can be admitted as evidence.

Now, he was 15 at the time that he was sent there and confessed. And the defense has been arguing that the confession was tainted by mistreatment. What was that all about, and did you expect this ruling yesterday?

Ms. GREENBERG: Yeah, I expected that the suppression hearing would end in this way, that they would allow the evidence in, because I'm sure they had - they knew that this was going to be raised when they decided to bring this trial as the first military commissions trial under the Obama administration.

Essentially, what's happened is that his lawyers claim, and he claims, that he was threatened with rape and killing, and that that's what led to his confession. And so that's what - essentially, he's claiming that he was tortured. And the judge said that the confession is admissible.

MONTAGNE: And we're talking to Karen Greenberg, who's written extensively about Guantanamo. Now, Omar Khadr is 23 now but he was, again, as we've said, 15 - a teenager - when he was detained.� How much will his age be a factor in the trial?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, it's hard to say, but I think that it will be a large factor, and an undercurrent throughout the defense's argument. You know, under international law - which does not figure in this hearing but nevertheless, is there to be heard if they want to raise it, you know - under international law, he's a child soldier.

And the idea of the child solider is that they really are not making the decisions that they make, that they are coerced into it or brought up into it. And that's what they will probably argue, and that even though he may or may not have killed this military person, that he was a child.

And I think that they will use that throughout. And they will use that in conjunction with the idea that he was tortured or abused - however they decide to describe it - and then go forward with what they think about how he should be treated going forward, either in conviction or sentencing.

MONTAGNE: This is the first trial in Guantanamo for the Obama administration. What makes this trial different from the tribunals in the Bush administration that had been challenged in court?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, actually, that's a very good question. What will make it different? The Obama administration redid the Military Commissions Act and there are technical differences, and there's an attempt to bring them more in line with traditional military commissions. But we don't know. And one of the problems during the Bush era was how much the rules would change along the way as each trial or each case proceeded. And so we there is a lot of anticipation about what will happen, how clean the procedures will be, how open the court process will be, etc.

And I really do not think we have answers to these questions. And we don't have answers in general to the questions of the Obama administration, and how Guantanamo is actually going to be different than it was under President Bush.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. GREENBERG: Okay, thank you.

MONTAGNE: Karen Greenberg has written about Guantanamo. She's executive director of NYU's Center on Law and Security.

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