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US: Groups Urge End to Military Commissions Case Against Child Soldier

Omar Khadr Should be Repatriated to Canada or Tried in US Federal Court

(Washington, DC) - Three leading civil liberties, human rights, and juvenile justice organizations today issued a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to end military commission proceedings against Omar Khadr, the Canadian national apprehended in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15-years-old.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Juvenile Law Center called on Holder and Gates to drop military commission charges against Khadr, and to either repatriate him to Canada or transfer him to federal court and prosecute him in accordance with international juvenile justice and fair trial standards.

"Trying Omar Khadr in a discredited military tribunal flies in the face of universally recognized standards of juvenile justice," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's human rights program. "As a former child soldier and victim of abuse in US custody, Omar Khadr should first and foremost be a candidate for repatriation and rehabilitation, not subject to prosecution in an illegitimate system of military commission."  

Khadr is slated for trial by military commission in July.  The groups said that if the trial by military commission goes forward, Khadr will become the first person in decades to be tried by any western nation for war crimes allegedly committed as a child, which would undermine efforts by the Obama administration to increase international support for US counterterrorism policies.

"If the Obama administration is truly committed to restoring US credibility on combating terrorism, it should not prosecute Omar Khadr in a military commission," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Such a trial would only further damage US efforts to gain full support from its allies."  

Khadr is accused of having thrown a grenade that resulted in the death of US Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15-years-old. According to Khadr's lawyers, while in US custody he was forced into painful stress positions, threatened with rape, confronted with barking dogs, and once used as a  "human mop" after he urinated on the floor during an interrogation session.

Khadr was not allowed to meet with a lawyer until November 2004, more than two years after he was taken into custody, and was denied basic services mandated by international juvenile justice standards, including access to education, vocational training, counseling, or any family contact.

The three organizations recommended that after spending nearly a third of his life in abusive detention, Khadr should be returned to his native Canada, where he can access rehabilitative services and begin reintegrating into society.

"The Obama administration has the opportunity to restore the legal and moral policies and practices that we, as a nation, have always embraced," says Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center.  "The illegal activities at Guantanamo have been a stain on our nation's reputation - ending the prosecution of this tortured child soldier is an important step in restoring faith in our system of justice."

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