High Stakes in Obama's First Military Commission

Omar Khadr, captured at age 15, is accused of terrorism

This article is from the archive of our partner .

In 2002, U.S. special forces captured Omar Khadr in a firefight with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 at the time. Since then, he has been held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. This week, the U.S. finally begins Khadr's legal proceedings. But rather than appearing in a civilian court, he will be tried in a military commission, the first such commission under the Obama administration, which has struggled to decide between commissions or trials for other accused terrorists.

Born in Toronto, Khadr later moved with his family to Afghanistan, and is said to have grown up alongside the children of Osama bin Laden.  His trial--and the approach the U.S. takes--will weigh one of the most complicated and troubled terrorism cases in a long war that has been full of complicated and troubled cases.

  • Tests Military Commissions vs. Civilian Trials Spencer Ackerman explains that Khadr's attorney's want his statements made while imprisoned at Gitmo to be considered coerced and thus unusable. "It's a big deal. If the judge agrees to suppress Khadr's statements, then every detainee before the commissions has a good chance of getting his statements suppressed. And that means the government will have a much tougher time obtaining convictions in the commissions. Since obtaining a conviction easier than in a federal court is a substantial (if un-conceded) aspect for the commissions' rationale, then Khadr's motion-to-suppress hearing is a critical test of the viability of the enterprise."
  • 'Show Trial'  Marcy Wheeler insists these are "Gitmo show trials" that prove, "A year and change later the same duplicity, bad faith, and specious claims based on vapor and evidence from torture permeates the Obama handling of Gitmo detainees as it did under Bush and Cheney." The Gitmo lawyers are "being trotted out to sell a return to military commissions with few established known standards, that have been scorned and blasted by a conservative Supreme Court and, just for kicks, the government is fighting tooth and nail ... for the admissibility of tortured confessions from a child."
  • Will Obama Transform Military Commissions? The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman writes, "What happens this week at Guantanamo will determine whether Obama's pledge that the new, revised military commissions can deliver internationally-recognized justice is meaningful." Obama condemned the commission system as a Senator. "At the end of the hearing, it will likely be possible to tell whether Obama's changes to the military commissions created and advocated by George W. Bush -- and most congressional Republicans -- are substantive or cosmetic."
  • Was He Tortured? The case will hinge around that question, says Human Rights Watch's Daphne Eviatar. She documents his treatment after his capture on the battlefield, when U.S. special forces shot him three times for, they say, throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.

When Khadr regained consciousness a week later, U.S. forces brutally interrogated him in the tent hospital at Bagram, he says, shackling him into painful positions and denying him pain medication despite his serious wounds. Even before he'd healed, he was forced into stress positions with his wrists shackled to the ceiling, made to carry heavy buckets of water and clean floors on his hands and knees, and threatened with barking dogs while a bag was tied over his head, according to documents filed by his defense lawyers. Not allowed to use the bathroom during interrogations, Khadr was forced to urinate on himself, he says.

When he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay three months later, the abusive interrogations continued. Khadr says he was beaten, sleep-deprived, and threatened with torture and rape.

That treatment is likely to be the focus of hearings scheduled in Khadr's case this week. Khadr's lawyers claim that his statements in custody should not be used against him at trial because they were the products of torture.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.