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UN Observer Can't Attend Omar Khadr Hearing, Pentagon Says

by Michelle Shephard

The Pentagon has denied a request to send a United Nations observer to a hearing for Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, a month after a UN representative raised concerns about the Canadian's trial.

Khadr's military lawyers had asked that a representative for Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations special representative for children in armed conflict, be given access to the U.S. base in Cuba for Khadr's hearing, to start Feb. 4.

Coomaraswamy has told the U.S. State Department she's concerned a precedent would be set by a war crimes trial for "alleged acts committed when (Khadr) was a child," said her spokesperson Laurence Gerard.

"The denial smacks of retaliation," said Khadr's military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler. "It's difficult to see how Prime Minister Harper can defend the military commission as an appropriate judicial process when the U.S. refuses to let the leading international experts even watch."

A Pentagon official was not available for comment.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the government will not intervene in the trial of Khadr, who was 15 when captured in Afghanistan and accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.

Now 21, he faces charges of murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder, spying, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism. His lawyers will argue his trial is in violation of international treaties that protect "child soldiers." The Pentagon says international law allows for the prosecution of defendants over age 15.

France is joining critics calling for the U.S. to drop charges against Khadr, Agence France-Presse reported. A French foreign ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying "any child associated with an armed conflict is a victim and should be treated as such."

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008

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