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Accused terrorist linked to al Qaeda pleads not guilty to all charges

From Charley Keyes, CNN Senior Producer
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First Gitmo trial under Obama
  • The judge denies defense motion to block use of Khadr's statements
  • Khadr pleads not guilty to all charges
  • Khadr is described as a committed al Qaeda fighter; a child forced into war
  • Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan
  • Guantanamo Bay
  • Canada

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (CNN) -- Accused terrorist Omar Khadr, who has been linked to al Qaeda, pleaded not guilty Monday to all charges he faces in a military trial at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on Cuba.

Hours later, the judge, Army Col. Pat Parrish, denied most defense motions that would have blocked the military panel from hearing previous statements by Khadar and from seeing a video shot on the battlefield where he was captured in 2002.

That clears the way for a video showing Khadr struggling with guards at Guantanamo to be used at evidence against him. The video was shown during pre-trial motions Monday but has not been made public.

The military commission recessed Monday afternoon until Tuesday morning, when 15 prospective members of the military panel that will act as jury will be questioned.

During legal maneuvering earlier in the day, lawyers had presented two starkly different images of the defendant, one that portrayed him as a committed al Qaeda fighter and the other that described him as a child forced into war by adults.

Prosecutor Jeff Groharing said that the Canadian-born terrorism suspect was aware of al Qaeda ideology. "He embraced it and used it to justify his own activities," Groharing said of Khadr, the youngest detainee at the facility.

At the same time, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed defense attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, has repeatedly called his client a "child soldier" who was forced into fighting in Afghanistan by adults and threatened with violence if he did not provide statements to U.S. interrogators.

The 23-year-old Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan, is charged with assisting al Qaeda and with killing a U.S. Special Forces soldier.

A closed-circuit television link viewed by journalists showed Khadr slumped in his chair, reading documents and talking with others at the defense table during courtroom arguments. Behind him sat three uniformed guards.

Journalists who were in the courtroom when Khadr arrived said he looked almost nonchalant as he was escorted into the courtroom. He had a soccer magazine that he thumbed through as the lawyers argued over motions in the run-up to a trial that could send him to life in prison.

Jackson said Monday his client had been threatened with rape and death and therefore all his statements -- those made immediately after his capture in Afghanistan and more recent ones at Guantanamo -- should be excluded from evidence.

"Tell the government they cannot and will not benefit from someone being threatened with rape and murder," Jackson asked the judge.

The judge, Parrish, carefully contradicted earlier statements by Dennis Edney, a Canadian lawyer working at Guantanamo, who claimed that a formal request had been made to the court on Khadr's behalf to postpone the trial for the month-long Muslim holy period of Ramadam. Edney had argued that going without food during daylight hours -- one of the requirements of Ramadan -- would impede Khadr's ability to follow complicated charges and testimony.

The judge said he had received no such request for delay, that he made no denial of a request for a delay and that he understood that Khadr wanted to proceed.

In an an unusual move, defense attorney Jackson asked if he could ask the judge questions about the judge's own definition of the law of war, a key element since the government claims Khadr was an unlawful enemy combatant and terrorist.

The judge said to put questions in writing for Tuesday morning but he did not seem eager to engage in questioning. "I don't intend to answer questions about my professional background," Parrish said.

Edney, who sits beside Khadr in court but as a civilian attorney isn't allowed to speak, unloaded when he met with reporters later, saying the Gauntanamo system is stacked against Khadr.

"It is stacked when you allow confessional statements derived from someone trying to abuse you and rape you," Edney said.

And he called Parrish, the military judge, "a toady."

"We've never won a single ruling and what we hope to do through trial is speak to the jury. We don't have to speak to Parrish any more. He should go back to school and learn some law and some humanity," Edney said.

Daphne Eviatar, of Human Rights First, and one of the members of non-government groups allowed to observe the trial, also was highly critical of the judge's decision to allow earlier statements from Khadr to be admitted as evidence.

"There was strong testimony earlier in the pre-trial hearing that Khadr was seriously abused in prison, he was threatened with gang rape, he was threatened with murder ... to suggest that later interrogations by members of the same government would also not cause some fear or at least cause some confusion, I think is a really questionable judgement," Eviatar told CNN.

Khadr's trial was one of two war-crimes proceedings under way at the base.

The second proceeding of the Military Commission concerned Ibrahim Ahmed al Qosi, a Sudanese man the United States says was an al Qaeda fighter and driver for the group's leader, Osama bin Laden. Qosi has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and materially aiding al Qaeda terrorism.

His case was being televised at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan so that his family could watch, according to the judge in the case, Air Force Lt. Col. Nancy Paul.

A few journalists and other observers were allowed to witness the courtroom proceedings, but were not allowed to record them.

Details of the plea bargain were to remain sealed until al Qosi's confinement is completed, according to Paul.

While al Qosi is facing the possibility of a life sentence, he is expected to complete a far shorter prison term at Guantanamo, followed by a return to Sudan.

Fifteen members of the U.S. military will be seated by the end of Monday to evaluate the guilty plea.

U.S. military personnel who will act as jurors may be seated by Tuesday in Khadr's trial, which the government said late Sunday could last four weeks.

Navy Capt. David Iglesias, a former federal prosecutor and part of the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps, said if Khadr is convicted of serious charges, "the government will ask for life" in prison.

The Canadian branch of Amnesty International will have a representative inside the courtroom for Khadr's trial, the group said.

Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, ripped into both the U.S. and Canadian governments for not halting the terrorism trial.

"Amnesty International has been a strong critic of the Military Commission process, really from day one, and even the various improvements and changes that have been made over the years have not, in our view, turned this into what can be considered a legal process that meets international fair trial standards," Neve told CNN Sunday.

Neve said the Canadian government had been unwilling to speak out against the United States or to insist that Khadr be tried in Canadian or regular U.S. courts.

"The Canadian government, with breathtaking defiance has refused ... to lift a single finger to ensure that something is done to protect his rights," he said.

Canada's top court ruled in January that Khadr's rights were violated when Canadian spies interrogated the Toronto-born man and shared information with his U.S. prosecutors, according to the Toronto Star newspaper. Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson sent a diplomatic note in response to the ruling, seeking the Obama administration's assurances that information from Canada would not be used at Khadr's trial, the newspaper reported.

Washington responded in May that it would leave it up to Guantanamo's military judge to decide what evidence to admit, the Star said.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione told the Star the Canadian government has "complied" with the court ruling by delivering the note. "Canada recognizes the independence of the U.S. criminal proceedings," he said in May.