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Guantanamo Inmate Khadr Refuses Plea Deal, Says Would Give US Government Excuse for Torture

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - A young Canadian, the last Westerner held at Guantanamo Bay, said 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, told a military tribunal at the remote jail in Cuba.

He and his Canadian lawyer confirmed he had refused a plea deal under which he would only have to serve five years of a 30-year sentence in Guantanamo if he admitted war crimes charges, which normally carry a life term.

Lawyer Dennis Edney said under the deal another part of the term would have been spent in Canada, but his client refused to plead guilty.

"Mr Khadr could not admit to something he didn't do. He didn't kill anybody," Edney said.

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.

Khadr said he no longer intended to participate in the proceedings after firing his American defense team last week for the third time and complaining of the "unfairness and injustice" of the military commission.

"I will not willingly let the US government use me to fulfill its goal. I have been used too many times when I was a child, and that's why I'm here taking blame and paying for things I didn't have a choice in doing but was told to do by elders," Khadr said.

"It's going to be the same thing with lawyers or without lawyers. It's going to be life sentence," he said.

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."

But Parrish ordered the American military defense lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, to stay on, against Khadr's wishes. Parrish also did not grant Khadr permission to represent himself.

Under the rules of the military tribunals at Guantanamo, Khadr's Canadian lawyers cannot represent him without US attorneys.

Edney decried a system that would require his client's admission of guilt in order to obtain leniency. "It's a tragedy, this young man who's been abandoned and has lost hope," he said.

A new hearing will now be held on August 9, and Khadr's trial is due to start at the military base on August 10.

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.

On Monday the Canadian government meanwhile said it would appeal a federal court order which is effectively pressuring it to seek the Khadr's repatriation.

"Omar Khadr faces very serious charges, including murder," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson noted in announcing the appeal to the court's finding that Ottawa failed to protect Khadr's rights as it had been ordered to do by the Supreme Court, and must remedy the situation.

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, who said 180 inmates remain in Guantanamo, pleaded Sunday for US lawmakers to overcome partisan differences and work together to transfer inmates to other facilities and bring them to trial.

 

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