Judge halts Guantanamo proceedings against Canadian

January 22nd, 2009 - 6:27 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 22 (DPA) A US military judge suspended the proceedings Wednesday against a Canadian citizen accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan, in what could be the first step toward closing the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp.Hours after taking office, US President Barack Obama ordered a 120-day suspension of the military tribunals at Guantanamo so his administration can review the cases and explore the best way for moving forward.

The judge granted the request in the case of Omar Khadr, a so-called “child soldier” suspected of using a hand grenade to kill the American in 2002. The trial of Khadr, who was 15-years old at the time, was set to begin Monday.

Meanwhile, a hearing began Wednesday in the military tribunal of five accused plotters of the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to determine whether the defendants would oppose a suspension of the proceedings.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants face execution if convicted for murdering nearly 3,000 people.

Three of the defendants, including Mohammed, are representing themselves in the case. Mohammed has said he wants to receive the death penalty to achieve martyrdom.

Obama has stated he intends to close Guantanamo, where about 250 prisoners remain locked up - only 22 have been charged with crimes. The new president was expected to order the prisons closure in the coming days, but he has cautioned that legal and diplomatic complexities could require some time before the notorious camp is actually shuttered.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights critics of Guantanamo and the military tribunals welcomed Obama’s order and said the cases should be transferred to US federal courts, where defendants would have broader rights to challenge the evidence against them.

“President Obama knew better than to start his presidency with the spectacle of unfair and chaotic military commission proceedings,” said Joanne Mariner, the director of HRW’s terrorism programme.

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