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Sentencing of detainee stalls at Guantanamo

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- The planned sentencing of a Guantanamo Bay detainee who pleaded guilty to war crimes charges as part of a plea agreement has stalled because of an inter-military dispute over where he can serve time, according to military officials.

As part of the deal, military prosecutors agreed to allow Ibrahim al-Qosi, a 50-year-old native of Sudan and onetime cook for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, to serve any sentence handed down at Guantanamo's Camp 4, a minimum-security facility where detainees live communally.

But Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the military unit that runs the prisons here, would not agree to keep Qosi at Camp 4, citing the Geneva Conventions and military regulations, which ostensibly require isolating sentenced prisoners from the general detainee population.

The only convicted man still at Guantanamo, Ali Hamza Ahmad al-Balul, Osama bin Laden's former media secretary, is kept apart from the other 175 detainees here.

The dispute over where to keep Qosi is now being discussed at the Pentagon, where some officials do not want to create a new policy that would allow the co-mingling of different categories of detainees. At the same time, the military wants to honor its commitment to Qosi, according to military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing negotiations.

Military prosecutors and defense attorneys here have declined to discuss the issue.

While Pentagon officials try to resolve the matter, a panel of 15 military officers has already arrived here to hear evidence and impose a sentence on Qosi.

The plea agreement stipulates the maximum sentence Qosi can serve. The panel's decision will be irrelevant if it imposes a sentence that exceeds the sentence laid out in the plea agreement -- unless Qosi breaks the agreement, which is sealed. If the sentence is less than that called for in the plea bargain, then the Convening Authority, the military official who refers cases for prosecution, can reduce Qosi's sentence.

Military officials are attempting to see if they can sit the panel of jurors, have them impose a sentence, if they choose to do so, and then not actually ratify any sentence until the Camp 4 conundrum is resolved.

A planned court hearing Tuesday was suspended as officials considered the problem, and it may resume tomorrow.

Separately, lawyers began questioning potential jurors for the trial later this week of Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, who is accused of the murder of a Special Forces medic in Afghanistan.

Khadr, normally taciturn or distracted in court, smiled at a panel of military officers and said "How are you?" after his military defense lawyer introduced him.

Khadr was 15 when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed the medic, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, of Albuquerque, N.M., following an intense battle at an al-Qaeda compound in July 2002.

The prosecution of Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was brought to Pakistan and Afghanistan when he was 10 by his father, an al-Qaeda supporter, is controversial because of his age. United Nations officials and human rights activists describe him as a child soldier who should be rehabilitated not punished.

"Since World War Two, no child has been prosecuted for a war crime," Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflict, said in a statement Tuesday. "Child soldiers must be treated primarily as victims and alternative procedures should be in place aimed at rehabilitation or restorative justice."

By Peter Finn  | August 10, 2010; 3:56 PM ET
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I have an alternative, hang the slug. One less drain on taxpayers.

Posted by: LarryG62 | August 10, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Your article refers to Sergeant Speer as a "medic".

Sergent Speer sounds like a highly honorable GI, with a young family, whose death was a tragedy -- but I consider it a serious mistake for journalists to refer to him as a "medic".

Killing a noncombatant medic is a war crime. The Geneva Convention provides protection for noncombatant medics -- chaplains too. But to qualify they have to wear distinctive markings on the uniforms, and they aren't allowed to actively engage in hostilities.

Sergeant Speer was actively engaged in hostilities when he was mortally wounded.

The USA hasn't fielded non-combatant medics on the battlefields since before the War in Vietnam. The USA fields combat medics -- soldiers who are cross-trained to provide frontline medical care. But they remain soldiers first, and are medics second.

Most civilians don't know. I didn't know this. When I first read Khadr "killed a medic" I assumed that he had pretended to surrender, and then pulled out a hidden weapon -- as how else did hed get close enough to attack a non-combatant medic?

I strongly encourage Mr Finn to refer to Sergeant Speer as a soldier, not a "medic", so he doesn't misleadingly imply Khadr committed the war crime of killing a noncombatant medic.

Posted by: arcticredriver | August 12, 2010 3:50 AM | Report abuse

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