ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
And I'm Rebecca Roberts.
Today, a military judge at Guantanamo Bay dismissed all charges against a young Canadian accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. One reason, Omar Khadr did not meet Congresses new definition of an unlawful enemy combatant. Khadr was 15 when he was captured. He's the youngest detainee at Guantanamo. Today's action could jeopardize the government's efforts to try detainees in military courts. NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam was at today's hearing at Guantanamo and joins us now. So, Jackie, what happened in court today?
JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, Rebecca, it was a really very surprising day in court today. We came in expecting to hear arguments about Khadr's age when he was captured and who is going to represent him in court. But within an hour, the case had collapsed and the judge dismissed all charges. This is a little bit of context here, 3-years-ago the administration came up with the system called the Combatant Status Review Tribunal, CSRT, and essentially what they did was that they determined if detainee at Guantanamo was deemed an enemy combatant, and if they were, that meant that the administration could hold them here, they could charge them whatever.
But last fall, the Congress pass the law called, the Military Commissions Act. And it's partly - it's really a blue print to decide how the trials down here will going to go. But as part of that, it's said that anybody that was charged and put on trial had to be an unlawful enemy combatant, not just an enemy combatant, but an unlawful one. In associate, that is not what Omar Khadr is or any of the others 400 - approximately 400 detainees is still here, they're just enemy combatants. That was good enough for the judge. He said it just won't wash. It's a law now. Congress has passed it, all charges dropped.
ROBERTS: And Omar Khadr was 15 when he was arrested but he's been at Guantanamo for five years, what was his reaction?
NORTHAM: He had absolutely no reaction at all. And in fact, he had no reaction through the whole trial, even though it was very short. He would not stand up when the judge came in, he - you know, it's hard to read but he looks slightly belligerent. He wouldn't look at his one American lawyer down at the end of the table. He - you know, there was just no way reaction from him whatsoever.
ROBERTS: And what does this mean for military tribunals, are they likely to continue?
NORTHAM: It's so early - after this ruling today that it's a - one would presume that, yes they are, but some alterations are probably going to have to beat down, and one of the first alterations is probably to this process, to determine if their enemy combatants. In other words, that chief defense lawyer said, the administration will probably have to go back, rewrite the rules for those so it will containing the word unlawful in them and then go back and charge all the approximately 400 detainees for them to do process again, and impact that word and do it unlawful, and in this process can go ahead.
Having said that, the prosecution said that they would like 72-hours to consider whether they will appeal this ruling. And just to make it even more complicated, there's not they can appeal it too because there is no appeals courts for these type of tribunals in place yet. This is just the way that these trials go down here in Guantanamo.
ROBERTS: And there was another trial going on, what do we know about Salin Ahmed Hamdan?
NORTON: That trial is in process right now. It's just started a short while ago. It's unclear at this point whether the same thing is going to happen here. It's a different judge hearing this case. He might not even consider this unlawful enemy combatant status in this case. So, that's part is unclear quite yet, and we're just going to have to wait and see.
ROBERTS: Thank you, Jackie.
NORTHAM: Thank you very much, Rebecca.
ROBERTS: That's NPR's Jackie Norton at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
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