A U.S. soldier's widow glared across the courtroom at the young Canadian prisoner who killed her husband with a grenade in Afghanistan and told him Thursday, "You will always be a murderer in my eyes."
The testimony came during a sentencing hearing for Toronto native Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism conspiracy charges this week in the U.S. war crimes tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
Khadr, who was 15 when captured during a battle in Afghanistan, is the first person since World War Two prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a minor.
He is the only person held responsible for the death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, where more than 1,000 American troops have died in hostilities during nine years of an ongoing war.
Khadr admitted throwing the grenade that killed a special forces soldier, U.S. Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Speer, during a 2002 firefight in which Khadr himself was shot twice in the back and blinded in one eye.
Speer's widow, Tabitha Speer, cried and rocked back and forth during her testimony and showed photos of her husband with their young daughter and baby son, now aged 11 and 8.
She told the military jury Khadr had the choice to leave with the women and children before the firefight broke out at the al-Qaida compound where he lived, but chose instead to stay and fight U.S. forces.
"Everybody wants to talk about how he's the victim, how he's the child. I don't see that," the dark-haired woman said. "He made a choice. My children had no choice . . . (They) didn't deserve to have their father taken by someone like you."
Khadr, now a 24-year-old with a full beard, bowed his head down, occasionally glancing up at her.
Speer also read letters to Khadr from her children.
"I think that Omar Khadr should go to jail because of the open hole he made in my family and killing my dad," 8-year-old Tanner Speer wrote. "Bad guys stink."
Khadr pleaded guilty Monday to all five charges against him, including conspiring with al-Qaida to attack civilians, and making and planting roadside bombs for use against U.S. convoys in Afghanistan.
His plea deal calls for him to serve one more year at the Guantanamo detention camp, where he has been held for eight years, and then return to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence.
The sentence is reportedly capped at eight years, but if the jury issues a different sentence he would serve whichever is shorter.
The former top legal adviser at the Guantanamo detention camp, Navy Captain Patrick McCarthy, testified Thursday he believed Khadr could be rehabilitated.
McCarthy said he had frequent contact with Khadr at Guantanamo from 2006 to 2008, and described him as a cheerful and respectful young man who had a positive influence on the adult prisoners around him. Khadr often acted as an intermediary who told the legal staff what was happening inside the camp and helped defuse tensions, McCarthy said.
That was in stark contrast to the picture painted by a psychiatrist paid more than $250,000 to assess Khadr for the prosecution. He testified Khadr was extremely dangerous and radical, treated as a rock star because his father was an senior al-Qaida official close to Osama bin Laden.
McCarthy said that even Khadr's guilty plea, in which he admitted he had been an al-Qaida terrorist, did not change his opinion that Khadr could be rehabilitated.
He said Khadr was young and lacked experience when his father took him to Afghanistan, sent him to weapons training camp and delivered him to al-Qaida bomb-makers.
"Fifteen-year-olds, in my opinion, should not be held to the same standard of accountability as an adult would be," McCarthy, who has five children of his own, testified by video link from Kabul.
"His father made a very informed, voluntary decision to become associated with al-Qaida. Mr. Khadr (Omar) was a child who was taken with his father."
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