SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Pentagon legal official on Thursday upheld the eight-year sentence for a Canadian who pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. soldier, rejecting a defense request for clemency for the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.
Omar Khadr entered his guilty plea Oct. 25 to war crimes charges that included murder for throwing a grenade that mortally wounded the American soldier in Afghanistan. A military jury at the U.S. base in Cuba recommended a 40-year sentence, but a pretrial agreement limited him to no more than eight years.
Bruce MacDonald, the Pentagon official in charge of war crimes tribunals, issued a two-sentence statement confirming the eight-year sentence and rejecting a defense request to cut the sentence in half. As part of his deal, Khadr, now 24, is to be released from Guantanamo and sent back to his native Canada by Nov. 1.
His Pentagon-appointed defense lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon S. Jackson, said he was disappointed by the decision not to grant clemency but also relieved that Khadr was found to have met the terms of the pretrial agreement that the case is now formally over.
"We realize that this has been an extremely difficult case for everyone involved," Jackson said in an email. "Omar and I want to thank all of the lawyers, paralegals, and countless others who have supported him through this case."
In seeking clemency, the defense argued that Khadr's military tribunal sentencing was tainted by improper witness testimony and prosecution maneuvers. Military prosecutors denied the allegations.
The Toronto-born Khadr was 15 when captured by U.S. troops after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. His case was among the most highly scrutinized of Guantanamo prisoners because of his age and the fact that he is the son of a senior member of al-Qaida who trained him in militancy from an early age.
His supporters argued he deserved leniency because he had been a child soldier manipulated by his father. Military prosecutors portrayed him as a dangerous terrorist who admitted planting 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan as part of an al-Qaida explosive cell and throwing a grenade that killed a special forces medic, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Khadr is being tutored in a high-security section of the prison so he can attend college in Canada upon release.
"Omar continues to be focused on the future, his education and repatriation to Canada," Jackson said.