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Detainee lawyer says death was possibly by friendly fire

The defense for Omar Khadr, then 15, cites newly obtained reports in the 2002 killing of a soldier in Afghanistan.

April 12, 2008|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — A U.S. Army special forces soldier mortally wounded in a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan may have been hit by "friendly fire," the lawyer for a young Canadian charged with killing the soldier said Friday.

Newly obtained after-action reports from the battle near the eastern city of Khost show that other U.S. troops were throwing grenades after Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer had entered the suspected Al Qaeda compound, said the Navy defense lawyer for the terrorism suspect, Omar Khadr.

Khadr, 15 at the time, had been described in other military accounts of the battle as the only fighter still alive when Speer's unit stormed the compound after an air assault.

There was also only one grenade blast mentioned in those reports.

But a report just made available to the defense suggests U.S. forces continued to throw grenades in the chaotic final confrontation, said the defense attorney, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler.

During a contentious pretrial hearing at the war-crimes tribunal here, Kuebler alluded to "inconsistent and contradictory" accounts of what happened on the day Khadr was wounded and captured.

Khadr is charged with murder, conspiracy and material support for terrorism and faces life in prison if convicted by the commission, a jurylike panel of at least seven senior military officers.

As with the other six cases underway before the military commissions, Khadr's has become bogged down in legal challenges to the untested procedures of the first U.S. war-crimes trials since World War II.

Kuebler implied that the government had been suppressing evidence that would clear his client, and he accused the prosecution of trying to rush the case to trial because its "mythical assessment" of what happened was rapidly falling apart.

Noting the lack of an eyewitness to who threw the grenade, Kuebler said the friendly-fire theory couldn't be discounted.

"We're never going to know exactly what happened in that compound, but what we have is yet another possibility," he said.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, when asked if friendly fire might have killed Speer, said he was "quite confident that assertion will be proved groundless should it be raised in court."

Kuebler also appealed to the court to obtain another U.S. agency report on the firefight from the Canadian government, which was sent a copy shortly after the battle.

The defense learned of that "potentially exculpatory" evidence from a Canadian diplomat who visited Guantanamo this week.

The prosecution had told the defense that the documents had "gone missing" from the U.S. source, Kuebler said.

Friday's session was the third in as many months to discuss what access the defense should have to key documents and witnesses ahead of the trial, for which a date has not been set.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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