Khadr case in limbo; U.S. relents on journalist ban
In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense official, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr, front left, sits with his defense team as FBI Special Agent Robert Fuller, top left, testifies during Khadr's pre-trial hearing in the courthouse for the U.S. Military War Crimes Commission at the Camp Justice compound on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Thursday, April 29, 2010. (AP / Janet Hamlin)
Published Friday, July 9, 2010 8:20PM EDT
TORONTO - With Monday's crucial pre-trial hearings in Omar Khadr's war-crimes case in limbo, the Pentagon relented late Friday by unbanning at least one of three Canadian journalists barred from heading to Guantanamo Bay.
The hearings, scheduled to begin early next week, were thrown into doubt Wednesday when Khadr fired his American lawyers with just a month to go before the scheduled start of his trial.
Khadr, 23, the only Westerner in custody at Guantanamo Bay and also the infamous prison's youngest resident, is charged with war crimes that include killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002 when he was 15 years old.
Of four journalists barred from the hearings by the U.S. Department of Defense, one of them -- Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald -- suddenly found herself back in the Pentagon's good graces on Thursday.
The three Canadians remained on the no-go list until late Friday, when the Pentagon informed the Toronto Star's Michelle Shephard she was cleared to travel.
There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon on its change of heart.
Rosenberg, Shephard, Steven Edwards of Canwest, and Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail were all barred in early May after military officials said they named a witness whose identity was protected.
The reporters had tried unsuccessfully to argue that the name of the disgraced former soldier, who interrogated the Toronto-born Khadr in Afghanistan and was convicted of abusing prisoners, was already widely known.
They also noted the judge himself made no finding against them.
"This is a very simple case of the American military outrageously attempting to control the news from the military tribunal," Star editor Michael Cooke said this week.
Still, after three of the reporters personally promised in writing to abide by commission rules and not name the witness again, the Defense Department said they could apply "through the normal process" to cover the commissions again as of Aug. 5.
"There will be many who believe the Department should impose a severe sanction," Bryan Whitman, a deputy assistant defence secretary recently wrote one of the reporters.
"(But) I have determined not to impose a permanent ban on your attendance at military commission proceedings."
Rosenberg, however, was told Thursday she could return to Guantanamo Bay immediately to the dismay of the Canadian reporters.
"It makes no sense that the ban for one journalist would be lifted while the Canadian reporters would continue to have a 90-day ban," Shephard said.
"It's just absurd."
For his part, Koring remained defiant, insisting he had done nothing wrong. As a point of principle, he said he would not promise to abide by the commission's publication ban on naming "Interrogator 1" simply to be allowed back.
"I'm not going to help the Pentagon establish a precedent that allows them to impose retroactive amnesia on reporters or threaten to keep them off the plane," Koring said.
The barring of the journalists, who have all covered Guantanamo hearings extensively, had drawn the ire of civil, legal and media-rights groups.
A coalition of major news organizations argues the ban as unconstitutional.
Human Rights First on Friday praised the Pentagon's decision to reverse its ban as well its willingness to consider changing the rules governing coverage of the proceedings.
Mark Kennedy, Canwest's managing editor for national affairs, said Edwards never "knowingly" violated the ban.
"Canadians need to know what's happening at Guantanamo Bay," Kennedy said.
"We believe it's important to get back down there with Steven as the reporter on the ground because he spent years writing about this."
Khadr's American lawyers had been trying to get self-incriminating statements and other evidence thrown out on the grounds they were the result of torture or abuse.
Apparently the only order of business for presiding judge Col. Patrick Parrish on Monday will now be to confirm formally that Khadr has fired his U.S. legal team.
One of Khadr's Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, confirmed he would attend what was expected to be a brief hearing. However, it remained unclear what would happen with Khadr's trial, slated to start Aug. 10.