GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- A military judge on Monday dismissed terrorism-related charges against a prisoner charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan, in a stunning reversal for the Bush administration's attempts to try Guantanamo detainees in military court.
The chief of military defense attorneys at Guantanamo Bay, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, said the ruling in the case of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr could spell the end of the war-crimes trial system set up last year by Congress and President Bush after the Supreme Court threw out the previous system.
But Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was captured after a deadly firefight in Afghanistan and who is now 20, will remain at the remote U.S. military base along with some 380 other men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, said he had no choice but to throw the Khadr case out because he had been classified as an "enemy combatant" by a military panel years earlier _ and not as an "alien unlawful enemy combatant."
The Military Commissions Act, signed by Bush last year, specifically says that only those classified as "unlawful" enemy combatants can face war trials here, Brownback noted during the arraignment in a hilltop courtroom on this U.S. military base.
Sullivan said the dismissal of Khadr case has "huge" impact because none of the detainees held at this isolated military base in southeast Cuba has been found to be an "unlawful" enemy combatant.
"It is not just a technicality _ it's the latest demonstration that this newest system just does not work," Sullivan told journalists. "It is a system of justice that does not comport with American values."
So, if I'm reading this right (since I'm not a lawyer), Khadr's status is now similar to that of a POW - an "enemy" caught during war time whose actions cannot be deemed "illegal". I certainly agree with Sullivan then that this decision is "huge".
Khadr has been demonized over the years for the actions and political views of his family members and, as the New York Times' William Glaberson reported on Sunday, there has been a lot of controversy about Khadr's case because he was a child soldier at the time he was captured. And in Canada, the current Conservative government has been very notably silent and inactive when it came to pursuing justice for him - a very shameful reality.
It has been a long and frustrating road for Khadr, his family and anyone who's been concerned about his human rights, especially since he claimed that he was tortured - as this 2006 Rolling Stone story detailed.
What happens now to Khadr and others similarly charged in Gitmo will definitely be a matter of strenuous debate, considering that Bush and those who supported his administration's legal stance on this issue will now try to find seven ways from Sunday to justify the military tribunals process in order to defend its supposed legality. When the act was passed last fall, 34 Democratic senators voted for it as did 32 Democratic reps in the house - no doubt sold on the idea of the perpetual 'Global War on Terror' along with the idea that anyone captured by the US military deserves as few rights as possible.
Now that the Democratic party has majority congressional power, what will they do to right this wrong? Will they support Bush's philosophy that prisoners be held without end in Gitmo - considering that this so-called 'war on terror' will never be over? Is that justice? Is that the American way? Is that humane?
Khadr's fight isn't over. Will our federal government finally step up and do the right thing as well and demand that he be returned home - as other countries' governments with nationals in Gitmo have done? That remains to be seen.
Please contact your MP. Enough is enough.
h/t to Ali for letting me know about this huge development.