Attorney For Gitmo Inmate Works To Drum Up Support
SAN FRANCISCO - For six years, and for no pay, Dennis Edney has represented Omar Khadr, the next prisoner at Guantanamo Bay to face trial in a military tribunal system that the lawyer calls a sham.
So he's stepping outside the courtroom, speaking out about his client and hoping to win a victory in another venue. His goal is to sway public opinion and pressure the Canadian government into bringing his Toronto-born client home.
"I realize the only success we're going to have for Omar Khadr is a political one," Edney said in an interview with The Associated Press after addressing aspiring lawyers at the University of San Francisco this week. "So I've moved from being a lawyer to someone who goes on the lecture circuit - all on my own cost, of course."
Khadr is the only Western citizen still imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base, held back despite the repatriation of British and Australian detainees as U.S. military prosecutors prepare to bring him to trial. He is charged with tossing a hand grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a 2002 firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan.
Khadr, who was captured at age 15, faces a maximum life sentence at a trial expected to begin Nov. 10.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, discounted Edney's criticism of the military tribunal, saying "we're implementing the law as spelled out in Military Commissions Act," and adding that Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, is the lead counsel, not Edney.
But Khadr's attorneys and other critics say a fair trial will be impossible in the special military tribunal system, which departs from traditional U.S. civilian and military courts by allowing hearsay and evidence obtained through coercion.
"We're running out of time," Edney said.
So far, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to press for Khadr's release, saying the tribunal at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba should be allowed to run its course.
With speaking engagements across North America, Edney is trying to stir sympathy for Khadr and put pressure on the conservative prime minister to take another look at the case of the youngest man at Guantanamo.
In July, defense lawyers made public seven hours of video from interrogations in which Khadr, then 16, breaks into tears, asking for his mother and the Canadian government's help. He is not shown being directly ill-treated.
Last week, they filed documents in a Canadian court showing that the U.S. denied a Canadian Foreign Affairs officer's attempts to make sure Khadr had sunglasses and blankets to protect his shrapnel-damaged eyes and body.
"The United States has violated international standards by refusing to recognize Omar Khadr's status as a minor and treating him accordingly," Amnesty International has said.
Edney said he initially took on the case because it was a just cause and posed interesting legal challenges. Six years later, it's become an opportunity to "educate the public about their obligation to ensure justice is done," Edney said.
"I have never before represented anyone who has been treated so badly and abandoned by those who should know better," he said.
One obstacle to the public relations effort has been Khadr's own family, which has a history of involvement in radical Islamic causes and outspoken criticism of the U.S. and Canada.
One of his brothers, Abdullah Khadr, is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly purchasing weapons for al-Qaida. Another brother has acknowledged that their Egyptian-born father, now deceased, and some of his brothers visited with Osama bin Laden and fought for al-Qaida.
This family background suggests that Omar Khadr, who was 6 when taken to Afghanistan, should be treated as a child soldier, said Edney.
"He was his mother's baby, and he got caught up in something beyond his control," said Edney. "He was a victim."
Edney said that Khadr is not asking for forgiveness or even freedom.
"Just give him a court room. He's asking for a fair process," he said.