Al-Qaeda Child Soldier Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison

But he probably won't serve them because of a plea deal

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It's a strange case through and through. Omar Khadr is now 24, and has admitted to throwing a grenade at 15 that killed a U.S. soldier. He also admitted, according to New York Times coverage of Khadr's trial, to "spying and providing support to terrorism." A plea bargain was supposed to limit his sentence to eight years, but the prosecution asked for 25, and the jury recommended 40. In addition, Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and "is likely to be transferred to Canada, where he would be eligible to apply for parole after serving two years and eight months." Huh? That's before even getting into the details of the trail, in which Khadr admitted to acting independently despite having been brought to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan by his father at the age of nine. Here's some of the reaction to the case.

  • The Strange Sentencing  Debra Cassens Weiss at the American Bar Association Journal is one of many to focus on this contradiction: Khadr's plea bargain "capped the future sentence at eight years. The plea cap," though, "was not revealed to the jurors," who sentenced him to forty years. "Under military commission rules, jurors decide a sentence even when a plea bargain sets the maximum time to be served. The detainee serves the shorter of the two sentences." Weiss also notes that "the recommended 40-year sentence was 15 years more that sought by prosecutors."
  • How Does This Make Any Sense?  Spencer Ackerman is perplexed by the competing sentences:
As best I can understand it, the logic here is that the commission members want to go on record as stating that Khadr ought to have gotten 40 years for throwing the grenade that killed SFC Christopher Speer and helping plant IEDs in Afghanistan. But doesn't that then stand as an implicit criticism of the Office of Military Commissions for negotiating Khadr's plea deal? If this is ultimately an attempt by the government to save face for detaining and sentencing someone who was 15 years old at the time of his crimes, it's not the most intuitive method. What am I missing?
  • The Conclusion: 'Military Commissions Are No Place to Try Suspected Terrorists'  Human rights lawyer Daphne Eviatar chronicles the oddities of the trial, from the contradiction between an eight-year plea deal and a 40-year sentence, to the plea deal's stipulation that Khadr plead guilty "not only to murdering a U.S. soldier by throwing a grenade in a firefight, but to a long list of other charges--including conspiracy, spying, material support for terrorism, and attempted murder of U.S. soldiers and unnamed civilians." The government called these "war crimes" despite the fact they are not so recognized internationally and "weren't deemed war crimes by the United States until 2006--four years after Khadr allegedly committed them." In addition, Khadr's guilty plea prevented his lawyers from summoning any witnesses who believed him to be innocent. Eviatar is similarly appalled by the prosecution's witness, a forensic psychiatrist who
relied heavily for his conclusions about Khadr's future dangerousness on the work of a Danish psychologist who believes Islam is an inherently dangerous religion and that Muslims should not be allowed to emigrate to Europe.
  • 'Somewhere in Hell, Joseph Stalin Is Smiling'  Khadr's "chief interrogator at Bagram admitted to telling the teenage boy that unless he co-operated, he would be sent to a U.S. prison, where a group of black men would gang rape him to death," writes Tony Keller at the Canadian publication National Post. "Ponder that for a moment." He points out that American interrogators in the fight against terrorism have "cop[ied] communist coercion-based interrogation models." The conclusion:
Guantanamo's very first military tribunal has its first guilty verdict, thanks to those methods of coercion first perfected for the Soviet Bloc show trial. My God, what have we done?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.