Lawyer Barred, Other Defense Issues as Khadr Military Trial Looms

As the terrorism trial by a U.S. military tribunal of a Canadian arrested in an Afghanistan battle at age 15 appears about to get under way, starting with an arraignment today, the defense is in apparent disarray.

Dennis Edney, a Canadian attorney, is the lawyer chosen by Omar Khadr, now 21, to defend him in the upcoming trial at a United States military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on expected charges of charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, reports the Los Angeles Times. (Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. army sergeant during a 2002 firefight in a house in Afghanistan in which the other soldiers on his side died.)

But Edney has been barred from the defense team, at least for now, because of his disagreement with Khadr’s Pentagon-appointed counsel about how the case—which will be the first war crimes trial conducted by the Gitmo military tribunal—should be handled.

According to Edney, his lead co-counsel, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, hasn’t prepared for trial. As the government has spent the last two years putting the prosecution case together, Kuebler, he says, hasn’t interviewed witnesses or reviewed evidence disclosed to the defense. Instead, Edney says, Kuebler has focused his efforts on an unsuccessful campaign to persuade Canadian officials to seek Khadr’s repatriation. (The effort apparently seeks to resolve the Khadr case in much the same way that David Hicks was sent home to Australia after accepting a controversial plea bargain.)

“Kuebler has no trial experience, no criminal or terrorism law experience,” says Edney. “He was a tax lawyer.”

Kuebler didn’t respond to the newspaper’s e-mailed request for comment, but Army Col. Steve David, the tribunal’s chief defense lawyer, says he banned Edney from today’s arraignment and gave him a “timeout” because he was disrupting the defense. “I felt there were too many hands on the steering wheel,” David tells the Times.

As discussed in an earlier post, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a defense request that the trial be stayed. Yet not only Edney but David, too, expresses doubts about the tribunal’s ability to try the case appropriately, the newspaper reports.

“He said he believed that the forum could be made fair and consistent with international law,” the LA Times writes, “but that ‘we’re not there yet.’ “

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