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Lawyers argue that US and Canada violated rights of Guantanamo terror suspect

March 26, 2008

OTTAWA: The United States has violated international laws by imprisoning a Canadian former child soldier at Guantanamo Bay and depriving him of access to courts, his lawyers told Canada's Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The top Canadian court is to decide whether the government should release details about Omar Khadr's interviews with Canadian officials in 2003 and 2004 at the U.S. terrorism detention center in Cuba, so that he can provide a full defense against U.S. charges.

Khadr is charged with killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade in a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old.

"The interrogations were a violation of international law," said Nathan Whitling, a lawyer for Khadr, argued before the nine Supreme Court justices. "He was expressly prohibited from getting access to a court. Canadians should have refrained from going down there and participating in his vulnerability."

Khadr's lawyers cite violations of juvenile justice rules set out by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as Canada's bill of rights. They also point to international agreements on civil and political rights and the treatment of prisoners.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said the court would release its ruling at a later date.

Canada's Justice Department lawyer Robert Frater dismissed the efforts by Khadr's lawyers as a "fishing expedition" that could compromise sensitive intelligence information and said U.S. practices at Guantanamo Bay should not be on trial in a Canadian courtroom.

The justices asked Frater to reveal which U.S. authorities were given information about Khadr. Frater declined to say who received it but acknowledged it was shared.

On a larger scale, Khadr's attorneys are hoping the Supreme Court comments on the practices at the U.S. military base, where terror suspects have been held indefinitely without trial.

"Canada is going to have to consider whether the U.S. is beyond the rule of law," said Dennis Edney, a Khadr attorney.

Edney said Khadr got a fair hearing in Canada, unlike what he is getting in the U.S.

"Omar Khadr is before a military process that is abomination. To expect success in that unfair process is to hope a great deal," Edney said. "The least we can do is put a fight up. We'll continue to fight with or without disclosure."

Lawyers for human rights groups also argued on behalf of Khadr.

"Guantanamo is an affront to the rule of law. It's notoriously so," said Sujit Choudhry, a lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said after the hearing. "Canada sullied itself by becoming complicit."

Khadr, now 21, is expected to be among the first detainees to face a U.S. war-crimes trial since the World War II era

He has been held since October 2002 at Guantanamo Bay and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted on charges including murder, conspiracy and supporting terrorism.

The U.S. military says it plans to charge about 80 detainees at Guantanamo, but so far none of the cases has gone to trial.

Khadr has received little sympathy in Canada, where his family has been called the "First Family of Terrorism."

Khadr is the son of an alleged al-Qaida financier. One of Khadr's brothers, Abdurahman Khadr, has acknowledged that their Egyptian-born father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and some of his brothers fought for al-Qaida and had stayed with Osama bin Laden.

One brother, Abdullah Khadr, is being held in Canada on a U.S. extradition warrant, accused of supplying weapons to al-Qaida.

The elder Khadr was killed in Pakistan in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with some senior al-Qaida operatives.

Khadr's mother, two sisters and younger brother, were in the courtroom Wednesday. They declined comment.

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