GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- A U.S. Special Forces soldier injured in the battle where Omar Khadr was captured says he was shocked to learn the Canadian teenager wasn't the only person alive in an Afghan compound when a grenade fatally wounded another soldier.
Layne Morris, a former U.S. Green Beret who was blinded in one eye during the 2002 firefight in Afghanistan and forced to retire from the army, said he always maintained Khadr was the sole survivor in the compound.
"That was a total shock to me. Everyone had told me from the get-go that there was only one guy in there," Morris said in a telephone interview from his Utah home yesterday.
A document inadvertently released to reporters here Monday disclosed that after the grenade was thrown, a U.S. operative killed another suspect and then shot Khadr twice in the back. The revelation casts doubt on the Pentagon's assertion that Khadr threw the grenade that fatally wounded Delta Force soldier and medic Christopher Speer.
Khadr, now 21, is charged with "murder in violation of the laws of war" for Speer's death in addition to attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and providing material support to terrorism.
Morris had been airlifted from the battle scene before Speer was injured, but said other soldiers involved in the firefight had told him Khadr was the only one who could have tossed the grenade.
The five-page classified document, however, states that an unidentified operative reportedly saw someone with an AK-47 beside him, moving and "moaning" after the grenade was thrown. He shot him in the head, killing him. "When the dust rose, he saw a second man sitting up facing away from him leaning against the brush. This man, later identified as Khadr, was moving ... (the operative) fired two rounds, both of which struck Khadr in the back."
It appears no one witnessed Khadr throwing the grenade, but that the operative concluded Khadr was responsible based on his position and the trajectory of the grenade.
Khadr was 15 during the firefight and has been held in U.S. custody for almost six years. This is the Pentagon's third attempt to try Khadr after charges were twice dismissed - first by the U.S. Supreme Court, which deemed the process illegal, and then by a military judge, who ruled he didn't have jurisdiction to hear the case.
Up until this week it had been the military commission process itself that has been on trial - with Khadr's lawyers and international civil rights groups challenging the legality of the commissions at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But with this first official account of the firefight, and as Khadr's trial nears, the prosecution's evidence is also being called into question.
Canada's opposition parties pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week to intervene on Khadr's behalf, insisting the Toronto man be rehabilitated rather than prosecuted. But Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier maintained the government's hands-off approach to the Khadr case yesterday, telling reporters in Ottawa that U.S. officials have assured Canada Khadr is "well treated over there."
Khadr's trial is scheduled to start in May although it's likely his defence lawyers will ask for an extension. In addition to having to prove Khadr was responsible for Speer's death, the prosecution must show Khadr provided support for Al Qaeda and conspired with its members.
Khadr is also being held accountable for the deaths of two Afghan soldiers, according to his charge sheet. Although he's not charged with their murders, it's alleged he conspired with others to kill them. Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said they will prove Khadr "shared the criminal intent of those who did the shooting."
Layne Morris said despite the new information released this week he isn't concerned about the coming trial or conflicting reports of what happened on July 27, 2002. He said he believes there is evidence to show it was Khadr's job to throw the grenades during the battle, while the other men in the house used their AK-47s. "Omar was the grenade man," he said.
© 2008 The Toronto Star