Defense lawyer's collapse halts Canadian's Guantanamo trial

The war crimes trial of a young Canadian came to an abrupt halt after his only lawyer was rushed to hospital.


Afp August 13, 2010

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE (CUBA): The war crimes trial of a young Canadian came to an abrupt halt Thursday after his only military defense lawyer collapsed and was rushed to hospital.

After hours of court proceedings that depicted Omar Khadr alternately as an innocent child solider or a committed militant, defense lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson interrupted his examination of a prosecution witness to ask for a five-minute break.

After the seven-member military jury left the courtroom, Jackson fell to his knees before fainting, witnesses inside the chamber said.

Jackson was rushed by ambulance to a medical facility on the base where he was placed on a morphine drip, said Bryan Broyles, an official with the military defense lawyers' office.

Broyles said the incident was thought to be related to gall bladder surgery Jackson underwent six weeks ago. "He felt pain, he tried to drink water, as you know he asked the judge for a quick break. He doesn't remember anything of that," Broyles said after speaking to Jackson.

The incident left uncertainty about whether Khadr's trial could proceed and when. It was also unclear whether Jackson could be treated on the base or would need to be evacuated to the mainland.

Khadr's trial is the first full prosecution at Guantanamo since President Barack Obama took office pledging to shutter the controversial facility. Now 23 and the last Westerner held at Guantanamo, Khadr is accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan eight years ago, when Khadr was 15.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors sought to depict Khadr as a committed fighter. "'I am a terrorist praying for al Qaeda': these are Omar Khadr's own words," chief prosecutor Jeff Groharing said, adding that Khadr's intention was "to kill as many Americans" as possible.

But Jackson presented the jury with another equally vivid image, that of Khadr as a frightened boy, bleeding and under fire in a compound with three "bad men" who told him what to do.

"Omar Khadr was there because his father told him to go there. Omar Khadr was there because of his father who hated his enemies more than he loved his son," Jackson said.

The son of an al Qaeda official who was killed in 2003, Khadr grew up in Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was seriously wounded and captured after US special operations forces laid siege to an al Qaeda hideout where Khadr allegedly made improvised explosives.

He is accused of throwing a grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the fighting July 27, 2002 near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. Khadr has been charged with murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy and espionage. If he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

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