October 25, 2010 at 1:12 PM EST - Updated June 22 at 10:07 AM
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) - A Canadian prisoner at Guantanamo accused of killing an American soldier has pleaded guilty to all charges.
Omar Khadr pleaded to five charges including murder in a plea agreement with military authorities. Khadr had been facing a possible life sentence if convicted at a trial that was scheduled to start Monday. He was 15 at the time of his capture.
The terms of the plea deal have not yet been disclosed. The military will now hold a sentencing hearing before a jury of military officers.
Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico in Afghanistan in 2002.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
A Canadian who has been in U.S. custody since he was a teenager could see an end to eight years of legal limbo on Monday as his war crimes trial resumes amid talk of a possible last-minute plea deal to spare him a life sentence.
Omar Khadr - the last Westerner held at Guantanamo - has resisted a plea deal in the past, but his attorneys hope to secure an agreement this time given he faces a possible life sentence under a military tribunal system that they believe favors the prosecution despite changes adopted under President Barack Obama.
"There's not much choice," attorney Dennis Edney said. "He either pleads guilty to avoid trial, or he goes to trial, and the trial is an unfair process."
Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a fierce battle to take an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan in 2002. The U.S. says the Canadian, who was seriously wounded in the firefight, is a war criminal because he was not a legitimate soldier. The now 24-year-old prisoner also faces charges of spying, material support for terrorism, conspiracy and attempted murder.
His war crimes trial, the first under Obama, began in August but was put on hold when Khadr's defense lawyer fell ill and collapsed in the courtroom.
The Khadr case has long outraged critics of Guantanamo, including some Obama supporters, who say Khadr should not be prosecuted because he was just 15 at the time of the battle in Afghanistan and subjected to harsh treatment in custody.
Defenders say he was a child soldier pushed into militancy by his father, an associate of Osama bin Laden who was killed in Pakistan after his son's capture. And they say that killing a soldier during a firefight does not amount to a war crime.
"It's particularly galling that a president who promised to restore human rights is beginning the first trial here with a child soldier who was abused for years in U.S. custody and was taken to a war zone by his dad," said Jennifer Turner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who is at the U.S. base in Cuba to observe the proceedings.
If Khadr agrees to plead guilty to some or all of the charges, the military would then convene witnesses for a sentencing hearing that is expected to last several days. It would feature testimony from witnesses, including Speer's widow, with whom he had two children, and another soldier who was blinded in one eye during the firefight. A jury of military officers will vote on a sentence but officials overseeing the tribunals will reject their decision if it exceeds the terms of the plea bargain.
Attorneys for Khadr and military authorities have declined to provide any details of the possible plea deal. Several media outlets in Canada, citing anonymous sources, have reported that he would face one more year at Guantanamo and eight back in his native country. Layne Morris, the now-retired Army sergeant who was partially blinded in the raid, previously said he would oppose that reported sentence as too lenient.
The Guantanamo war crimes trials, the first the U.S. has held since the World War II era, have been stalled repeatedly by legal challenges since they began in 2004.
The U.S. Supreme Court forced Congress and President George W. Bush to modify the rules and Obama did it again as part of his so far unsuccessful attempt to empty the detention center. The military tribunals have convicted just four men, none of them major al-Qaida figures.
Even with the changes, the military commissions are unpopular with some Obama supporters. The ACLU says the tribunals can still convict someone with hearsay evidence obtained coercively, or based on testimony from detainees who are not available for cross-examination.
The president's supporters have also been frustrated by his inability to close the detention center, where the U.S. now holds about 170 men. Obama had directed the government shortly after his inauguration to close the prison within a year but the effort has bogged down amid Congressional opposition to transferring prisoners to the U.S. and difficulties finding adequate places to resettle them elsewhere.
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