The Pentagon is attempting to revive its murder case against a Canadian Guantanamo detainee by alleging he confessed to wanting "to kill a lot of Americans" in order to cash in on a $1,500-a-head bounty against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
U.S. military officials, now appealing last month's dismissal of charges against Omar Khadr, claim that he admitted to being motivated by money as he was questioned just two months after a deadly 2002 battle in Afghanistan.
At the time, he was 15 years old and the sole survivor of a small al-Qaeda faction that was wiped out fighting U.S. soldiers who raided a compound near Khost, Afghanistan.
The Pentagon says that just weeks after Mr. Khadr was shot and captured he was questioned and "related that he had been told about a $1,500 reward being placed on the head of each American killed. It was not made clear who offered the bounty. When asked how he felt about the reward system he replied, 'I wanted to kill a lot of American[s]to get lots of money,'" according to new legal documents.
The allegation, which defence lawyers say was not mentioned in any prior proceedings during the past five years, appears in a U.S. government appeal of last month's surprise dismissal of charges against Mr. Khadr.
A military prosecutor, Major Jeffrey Groharing, this month submitted the appeal to the newly created Court of Military Commissions Review. The 24-page document recaps the case against Mr. Khadr, but in greater detail than in past documents.
Defence lawyers say they are angered by the allegations, which they suggest are suspect, "superfluous" to the appeal motion and designed to undermine public sympathy for Mr. Khadr.
"We're not inclined to believe reports about what Omar said to interrogators," his military lawyer, Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. He added that "the government seeks to vilify Omar based on information it coerced out of him as a 15- or 16-year-old boy recovering from critical wounds inflicted by U.S. forces. It shows how desperate they are."
A Canadian lawyer for Mr. Khadr pointed out that his client's cohorts had already been slain by U.S. air strikes when a grenade killed a U.S. medic, Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer. It is alleged that Mr. Khadr threw the grenade.
"It is hardly convincing for the U.S. to suggest that in the midst of this battle, and after the entire site had been flattened by 500-pound bombs and everyone else in the compound killed, Omar was lying under the rubble thinking about how to earn himself $1,500," Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr's Canadian lawyers, said in an e-mail to The Globe.
U.S. soldiers shot Mr. Khadr three times after Sgt. Speer was mortally wounded, but the teenager survived. Months later, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he has been held for five years.
Mr. Khadr has faced the most serious charges ever formally laid against any of the hundreds of detainees housed in the prison camp.
Last month, the Pentagon had hoped to show the world that the legal system it has spent years devising could bring al-Qaeda suspects such as Mr. Khadr to justice.
However, the Guantanamo military-commission process stumbled badly out of the gate, when a military judge threw out the charges against Mr. Khadr and another suspect, ruling that they had been designated only "enemy combatants," as opposed to "unlawful enemy combatants," and that the tribunal thus lacked jurisdiction to hear the cases.
A Canadian who was raised in Afghanistan, Mr. Khadr was still a teenager when he was sent to the battlefront by his fundamentalist father, who had originally gone there to resist the 1980s Russian occupation of Afghanistan. The family fell in with al-Qaeda figures.
After allegedly attending a training camp in 2002, Mr. Khadr is accused of having laid land mines and run surveillance for al-Qaeda against U.S. forces. This led to a showdown as Americans raided a compound in July, 2002.
"After vowing to die fighting, the accused armed himself with an AK-47 assault rifle, put on an ammunition vest, and took a position by a window in the compound," reads the appeal brief. "Toward the end of the firefight, the accused threw a grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, U.S. Army."
Two months later, Mr. Khadr was allegedly candid about his motivations, the document says: "When asked on 17 September, 2002, why he helped the men construct the explosives, the accused responded 'to kill U.S. forces.' The accused then related during the same interview that he had been told the U.S. wanted to go to war against Islam."
That December, Mr. Khadr allegedly stated "that jihad is occurring in Afghanistan and if non-believers enter a Muslim country then every Muslim in the world should fight the non-believers."
From there, the appeal goes into an elaborate argument that the original judge erred in dismissing the charges and that "Khadr satisfies the MCA's [Military Commission Act's]definition of unlawful enemy combatant."
In an e-mail, a Pentagon spokesman declined to expand on the appeal. "I can simply tell you that the Court of Military Commissions Review will evaluate the appeal and make a ruling," said Commander Jeffrey Gordon. "It would be inappropriate to discuss any of the details at this point."
He added there is no set timetable for a ruling.