(9AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
Emotional day today in Guantanomo tweetland. I’ve spent much of yesterday and today following along with the live tweet squad tweeting from the media pool on the Sentencing Hearing of Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born Guantanmo prisoner, now 24. The somewhat well known (in certain circles) “Child Soldier” who was shot and captured on July 27, 2002 in Afghanistan by U.S. Special Forces at the age of 15.
For a better take on the final plea deal a few days ago, I’ll point you this article by Dan Gardner who concludes:
So what does the plea bargain really mean? Khadr has already spent one-third of his life in prison. He is being tried by a stacked military commission. He faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in a locked box. And so, on Monday, after eight years maintaining his innocence, Khadr confessed. Sure. He’s a terrorist. Whatever.
A coerced confession is no confession. And if Omar Khadr’s confession cannot be described as coerced, the word should be stricken from the dictionary.
But today. Today was hard.
Today the seven person military jury heard a victim impact statement from the widow of US Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer who died as a result of that firefight that day in 2002, from the grenade that fatally wounded him. They had two young children.
Tabitha Speer took the stand and, staring straight at Khadr, told him he would “forever be a murderer.”
Asked by the prosecution if she had anything to say to Khadr, she went back to July 27, 2002, when Khadr threw the grenade that killed her husband.
Speer’s unit had been engaged in a firefight with Khadr, who was 15 at the time, and other militants holed up in a compound in Afghanistan. According to a fact summary signed by Khadr as part of his plea deal with the Pentagon, the U.S. forces offered women and children in the compound the chance to leave.
“You had the choice, and you stayed,” Tabitha Speer told the military war-crimes court Thursday. “Looking at you today, I don’t know what your thoughts on that day were. It doesn’t really matter what your thoughts were.”
“You will forever be a murderer in my eyes. It doesn’t matter what you say from this day on,” she added, looking at Khadr, who sat at the defence table with his lawyers. “My children are good, loving, wonderful people. They didn’t deserve to have their father taken by someone like you.”
The widow also spoke directly to the jury of seven military officers and urged them not to be swayed by arguments that Khadr, the son of an al-Qaida leader who was groomed for militancy from an early age, deserves special consideration.
“Everyone wants to say he’s the child, he’s the victim,” Speer said. “I don’t see that. My children are the victims.”
She has had to raise her children on her own. The jury saw family photo’s and heard some of the kid’s own words in letters.
Tabitha Speer read a letter [now 11 year old] Taryn [daughter] wrote to Khadr. “Because of you, my daddy never got to see me play soccer or go to kindergarten,” the girl wrote. “You make me really sad … I’m mad at you.”
The widow also read a letter written by [now 8 year old] Tanner [son] to his father for a school assignment.
“Dear Daddy,” the letter begins. “Thank you so much for sacrificing so much for our freedom. I am very proud of what you did.”
In another letter, this time to Khadr, Mr. Speer’s son wrote: “I think that Omar Khadr should go to jail, because of the open hole he made in my family and for killing my dad …
Army rocks, bad guys stink.”
Omar was about nine years old when his father left Canada and took the family to Afghanistan. I’ll have to read the book (or the wiki) for more of that background detail, but ultimately, when he found himself in that compound, those huts, on that day, not in a soldier’s uniform, age 15, there’s no telling what he was thinking. Maybe he was thinking something like ‘Army rocks, bad guys stink’ as the schrapnel lodged in his eye.
By the time it was all over, he was shot, half blind, and near dead, captured and taken into custody. Volumes have been written (and theres a new documentary as well) about his treatment, including being shackled, abused, tortured, and threatened with gang rape, in these eight years since. I suppose he may’ve watched or even played a few soccer games too down there on that island prison.
Unexpectedly, nearing the end of the hearing day, Omar (whose own father has since died as well, another very long and involved story) took the stand.
Khadr stood in the witness box and addressed Tabitha Speer, seated just metres away in the gallery. “I’m really, really sorry for the pain I’ve caused your family,” he said. “I wish I could do something to take this pain away from you. That’s really all I can say.”
Mr. Speer’s widow sobbed as Khadr took the stand, but when he stood up to apologize, she clasped the hands of the people beside her and shook her head.
Khadr delivered an unsworn statement, meaning he did not swear in court that his statements were true, and the prosecution didn’t have the right to cross-examine.
Khadr introduced himself to the court as a 24-year-old who likes sports and reading.
“My name is Omar Khadr. I am 24 years old. I finished eighth grade. My hobbies are sports and reading,” Khadr said softly as he took the stand, wearing a dark suit and tie.
“I decided to plead guilty to take responsibility for the acts I’ve done.”
Khadr said that he had suffered damage to both his eyes in the firefight in which he threw the grenade that killed Speer. Medical staff have told Khadr that he might eventually lose his vision completely.
He said his “biggest dream” was to leave Guantanamo Bay. “Being in this place, I’ve really known and understood the wonders and beauties of life that I haven’t experienced before.”
Khadr, who made the occasional grammatical error as he spoke, said his first wish upon being released would be to resume his education, and that he eventually hoped to be a doctor.
“I know what pain means. I would really love to relieve a person who is suffering from such pain,” Khadr said.
There, ladies and gentlemen, is your terrorist. Convicted terrorist and murderer.
But wait, there’s more, just a little.
This week, it was revealed that, while in detention at Guantanamo, Khadr read Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography. Paraphrasing Mandela, Khadr said being in prison gives a person a long time to think about things.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about things … you’re not going to gain anything from hate,” Khadr said.
At one point, one of Khadr’s military appointed defence lawyers asked him if he’s still angry.
“Do you carry any anger or hate in your heart, Omar?” Lt. Col. Jon Jackson [defense attorney] asked.
“No,” Khadr replied.
“No.” Simple answer. Just … “no”.
War is hell.
see also my Oct 25 post on the announcement of Omar’s guilty plea here
crossposted to Wild Wild Left 10/28/10 evening