A Canadian accused of killing an American soldier as a teenage al-Qa'ida militant pleaded guilty yesterday as part of a deal that avoids a war crimes trial for someone labelled a "child soldier" by his defenders.
Omar Khadr pleaded to five charges including murder for throwing a grenade that mortally wounded the soldier during a fierce raid on an al-Qa'ida compound in Afghanistan in 2002. The now 24-year-old defendant also admitted to planting improvised explosive devices and receiving weapons training from the terrorist network.
The exact terms of the plea agreement were not immediately disclosed. Khadr will now face a military jury for a sentencing hearing that is expected to last several days. The panel cannot impose a sentence more severe than the plea agreement, but could impose one that is more lenient. His trial had been scheduled to start yesterday and he faced a possible life sentence.
Dressed in a dark suit instead of the jumpsuits typically worn by prisoners held at the US base in Cuba, the defendant, who was born in Toronto and speaks fluent English, repeatedly answered "yes" to a series of questions from the military judge making sure he understood the charges against him.
Khadr would be eligible for transfer back to his native Canada after serving the first year of his sentence as part of the agreement, said Colonel Patrick Parrish, the military judge.