US President Barack Obama’s revamped military commissions start work Monday at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, focusing on the cases of two men facing terrorism charges.
One has pleaded guilty and the other was 15 at the time of his arrest.
Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, 50, pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. The former bodyguard of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will appear before a commission on Monday to hear his sentence.
A spokesman for the prosecution, David Iglesias, refused to tell reporters if Qosi’s sentence will be made public or remain confidential.
Asked if convicted Guantanamo prisoners would be kept at the prison even after their sentences had run out, as happened under former US president George W. Bush, Iglesias said he was “not aware of any controlling direction from Washington, DC, on that.”
Also Monday, in a second courtroom at the naval base, Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured at age 15 by US troops in Afghanistan and the last Westerner at the naval base, will appear at the last preliminary hearing before his trial, due to start on Tuesday.
The trial will begin with the selection of a 15-member jury, at least five of whom will be military officers.
Khadr, now 23, is accused of throwing a grenade in 2002 that killed a US soldier. He also is alleged to have been trained by Al-Qaeda and joined a network organized by Osama bin Laden to make bombs.
“It’s very clear that the government of the US and the government of Canada have decided not to intervene in this case and therefore we are going to see the first case of a child soldier in modern history,” said his military lawyer Jon Jackson.
“When President Obama was elected, I believed that we were going to close the book on Guantanamo and the military commissions. And instead President Obama has decided to write the next sad, pathetic chapter in the book of the military commissions,” he added.
“Forever, Obama’s military commission will be remembered as the trial of a child soldier,” Jackson said.
Iglesias had a different view on Khadr’s case.
“There is no legal prohibition in the US to try underage” people, he said, adding that the prosecution would have no trouble asking that he be put away for life if he is found guilty of the charges.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has not requested the return of Khadr, preferring to allow the US trial to run its course.
Khadr has so far refused a plea deal. In a letter to his Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, published in newspapers in Canada and the United States, Khadr said the trial may show the world how unfair the process is.
“The world doesn’t get it, so it might work if the world sees the US sentencing a child to life in prison, it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is,” he said.
Since 2001, four men have been convicted of terrorism-related charges in Guantanamo military trials, two of whom pleaded guilty, while US federal courts have sentenced some 200 extremists over the same period.
The first, so-called “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, pleaded guilty in May 2007 to material support for terrorism in exchange for a reduced sentence of nine months in prison to be served in his native Australia.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court declined to block Khadr’s prosecution at Guantanamo.
Jackson had sought the injunction in order to force a lower court to examine the constitutionality of the military tribunal set to try the Canadian.