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thedrifter
04-04-06, 09:16 AM
Khadr's lawyer says task 'impossible'
Sheldon Alberts
CanWest News Service

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

WASHINGTON -- In the two months that Colby Vokey has been Omar Khadr's military lawyer, the U.S. Marine lieutenant-colonel has been allowed to spend just two hours talking with his client.

He has yet to see all the evidence against the accused teenage Canadian terrorist. And he is prohibited by the United States government, which cites reasons of national security, from showing classified evidence to the Toronto-born defendant.

But when Vokey appears at a pre-trial hearing for Khadr today at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he will be tasked with defending a man the U.S. has already ruled is an "unlawful enemy combatant" on murder charges. The legal cards, Vokey says, are stacked against him.

"I just think the expectations for what I can do are impossible," the 40-year-old defence attorney said in an interview. "I have handled hundreds of cases, including three murder cases, and by far this is my greatest challenge. Right now, the proceedings are not fair."

Khadr, 19, is accused of killing U.S. special forces soldier Christopher Speer with a grenade during a July 2002 firefight near the village of Khost, Afghanistan. He has yet to enter a plea.

In February, the victim's widow, Tabitha Speer, and Sgt. Layne Morris, a U.S. soldier wounded in the battle, won a $102 million US civil court judgment against Khadr's family.

Khadr's military tribunal hearings have been embroiled in controversy since they began in January.

U.S. human rights groups argue the trial should not proceed because Khadr was a 15-year-old juvenile at the time of the Afghan firefight.

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, demanded the Bush administration give assurances that Khadr is not subjected to torture at Guantanamo.

The latest legal twist will come today when Khadr's legal team plans to file a motion to halt the tribunal proceedings, arguing that the hearing's presiding officer does not have the power to put the Canadian on trial.

Further, Vokey claims the U.S. military is rushing to try Khadr before the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer on whether the Guantanamo tribunals are lawful.

"They are really trying to jam the schedule down our throats,"he says.

"I need time to review the evidence and determine how to defend this case and talk to witnesses. But I have gotten nothing but resistance from the government."

Maj. Jane Boomer, a spokeswoman for the Guantanamo military commissions, rejected Vokey's complaints and said Khadr would receive "a full and fair" trial.

"Commission rules provide ample opportunity for the defence counsel to address concerns with case scheduling," Boomer said.

She noted that Khadr has a four-person legal team including Vokey, a second military lawyer and two U.S. civilian attorneys which was "appointed sufficiently in advance of trial to prepare a defense."

Vokey is considered one of the top lawyers in the Marine Corps. He recently defended a U.S. soldier accused of murdering an Iraqi during battle.

Based at Camp Pendleton in California, he is an 18-year veteran of the Marines and was awarded the combat ribbon as an artillery officer during Operation Desert Storm.

When asked his personal views on defending an accused foreign terrorist, Vokey said the assignment "doesn't give me pause at all" despite the high emotions surrounding the death of a U.S. serviceman in the case.

"When you enter the military as an officer of the Marines, you take an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States," Vokey says. "With my oath and my duty as an attorney, I have to defend him to the best of my ability. I have also represented Marines who have been charged in cases involving allegations that they abused prisoners. Now I am on the opposite side and I don't see this one a whole lot different."

Emotions ran high at Khadr's only previous tribunal hearing in January.

Col. Morris Davis, the chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, called sympathetic media portrayals of Khadr as "nauseating" and said the Canadian was a"smiling" killer who eagerly built bombs to kill Americans.

Khadr is the youngest son of former al Qaida financier Ahmed Said Khadr, who was killed in 2003 during a shootout with Pakistani troops. His brother, Abdullah Khadr, is facing possible extradition to the U.S. on accusations he procured weapons for al Qaida.

The prosecution contends that Khadr was an "unprivileged belligerent" in Afghanistan, meaning he was not entitled under international laws of war to be engaged in battle against American troops.

Vokey disagrees.

"They are basically charging that all these things are war crimes," he said.

"Now I am not endorsing combat against the Americans in Afghanistan, by any stretch of the imagination. But to call such an event a war crime, a law of war violation, is absolutely ridiculous."

Ellie