A young Canadian, the last Westerner held at the Guantanamo Bay, said Monday he would not defend himself after refusing a US plea deal, insisting his military trial was a sham.
“I will not take any of the offers because it’ll give the US government an excuse for torturing me and abusing me when I was a child,” Omar Khadr, 23, wrote to a military tribunal at the remote jail in Cuba.
He confirmed he had refused a plea deal under which he would only have to serve five years of a 30-year sentence if he admitted war crimes charges, which normally carry a life term.
Khadr’s letter was made available on the Internet by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald.
US forces in Afghanistan took Khadr prisoner when he was just 15 years old in July 2002. He has now been in Guantanamo Bay for eight years.
The US government alleges that Khadr killed a US soldier with a grenade in 2002 after rising from the rubble of an Al-Qaeda compound, the lone survivor of a four-hour US bombardment.
But Khadr, who has denied the charges, said he no longer intended to participate in the proceedings after firing his defense team last week, for the third time.
“It’s going to be the same thing with lawyers or without lawyers. It’s gonna be life sentence,” he said, complaining the court was unfair.
When presiding judge Army Colonel Patrick Parrish told Khadr he had to be present in court to represent himself without his lawyers, the young man replied: “I might be present, but I won’t be participating.”
“How can I ask for justice from a process that doesn’t offer it?” he added.
Khadr’s trial is due to start at the military base on August 10, and at Monday’s hearing there was discussion as to whether Parrish would force the military lawyer to stay on against Khadr’s will.
But Nate Whitling, one of his Canadian lawyers, told the daily Globe and Mail last week that “Omar has lost all hope of a fair trial in Guantanamo, he can see that the trial is rigged.”
A hearing opened here Monday to discuss the next steps, and who will represent Khadr in court now.
“The judge needs to hear from Omar Khadr’s mouth what he wants to do now,” said Defense Department spokesman Joe Della Vedova.
Initially five days of pre-trial hearings had been planned, when lawyers were to argue over what evidence could be used during his trial.
But Monday’s hearings were now only expected to last a few hours.
Under the rules of the military tribunals at Guantanamo, Khadr’s Canadian lawyers cannot represent him without US attorneys. That means Khadr must either hire new American defense counsel, or opt to represent himself.
Khadr is now the only Western citizen still held at Guantanamo, as the Obama administration seeks to close down the notorious jail — a symbol of the excesses in the “war on terror” conducted by former president George W. Bush.
Other detainees from countries including Britain, France and Australia have been repatriated, but Ottawa has steadfastly refused to seek the return of Khadr, who was born in Toronto in 1986.
Khadr, whose father was a close friend of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, was seriously wounded in the battle that preceded his capture in July 2002, losing sight in one eye.
His case has attracted concern from UNICEF and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who have argued he should be treated as a child soldier because he was under 16 when he was captured.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday 180 inmates were still left in Guantanamo, as he pleaded for US lawmakers to overcome partisan differences and work together to transfer inmates to other facilities and bring them to trial.
With additional reporting by RAW STORY.