Sunday, July 20, 2008

Friendly fire killed soldier: Khadr defence

Friendly fire killed soldier: Khadr defence

Sunday » July 20 » 2008

Testimony points to U.S. grenade

Steven Edwards

Canwest News Service

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Omar Khadr's defence team says it has expert testimony indicating the soldier he is accused of killing died as a result of injuries inflicted by an American grenade.

The lawyers say the evidence will be added to the results of the defence's wider investigation of the July 2002 firefight, and show the American assault was a "botched operation." The claim follows the lawyers' release of videotapes of Canadian officials interrogating Khadr that include statements he made that the prosecution in his war crimes case will have analyzed.

The contrasting pictures give a preview of some key opposing arguments that will be present at Khadr's war crimes trial in early October at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay , Cuba .

The proposition that U.S. friendly fire may have killed Sgt. Chris Speer has been floated before by the defence, but U.S. navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, Khadr's Pentagon-appointed attorney, said the expert testimony has helped complete the "first coherent version" of the firefight.

In a report expected soon, one expert will say Speer's injuries are consistent with the type of wounds fragments of an American-made grenade would have caused. The conclusion of another expert corroborates that finding, says Kuebler.

Khadr, now 21, says in a portion of the seven hours of videotapes there was an abundance of rifles, pistols and grenades in the compound he and other al-Qaeda suspects occupied near Khost , Afghanistan , the day of the battle. It is also believed only the U.S. soldiers who stormed the compound were armed with U.S.-made grenades.

"A war crimes investigator who examined the evidence, without prompting of any kind, offered his opinion that (it) suggested a friendly fire incident of some kind," Kuebler said.

"A ballistics expert has expressed the opinion that Sgt. Speer's wounds -- based on photos and description -- are consistent with the fragments expected of an American grenade, rather than a Russian grenade of the type Omar is alleged to have thrown." Kuebler said defence interviews of soldiers at the scene suggest a series of poor command decisions led to things going wrong for the American side.

" U.S. forces . . . surrounded the compound they knew to be occupied by armed militants. (Several) were injured, in the words of one of the soldiers we interviewed, because the U.S. troops were 'just standing around' outside the walls . . . instead of being in covered positions." Kuebler said after air strikes were called in "at least one aircraft refused to drop its 500-pound bombs . . . because the commander had positioned (soldiers) too close." It also emerged that the commander's goal of flattening the compound using a Humvee-mounted Mark 19 grenade launcher failed when it malfunctioned.

© The Calgary Herald 2008

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