In Far-Off Gitmo Part 2
Ab Khail VOA Report by Michael Drudge
Voice of America, August 1 2002
Last Saturday, American troops in Afghanistan ran into the heaviest combat they have seen since an offensive in March against remnants of the al-Qaida and Taleban forces. The battle left five Americans wounded and two of their Afghan allies killed. There was an undetermined number of al-Qaida casualties. V-O-A’s Michael Drudge has spoken with American soldiers who survived the four-hour battle. He has this report from the American military headquarters in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.
The American troops and their Afghan militia allies were looking for remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network in a village in Khost Province, in southeastern Afghanistan.
They found an al-Qaida suspect in a house that morning. He told them there were more al-Qaida in a nearby compound. Afghan militia men checked out the place first. They came back and told the Americans the occupants were local villagers, not the mostly Arabic al-Qaida.
Two militiamen then went back to tell the occupants the Americans wanted to search the place. The American company commander, Army Captain Chris Cirino, says that’s when the battle erupted.
The two Afghan militia soldiers went back into the compound through a doorway. Upon entering they were immediately fired upon by the occupants inside. Both were killed instantly.
Seconds later, hand grenades came flying over the compound wall toward the American troops outside. Shrapnel tore into the leg and arm and of Specialist Michael Rewakowski. Still, he had the presence of mind to lay down covering fire while an even-more-seriously-wounded soldier was carried off for medical treatment.
Specialist Rewakowski says the whole thing happened faster than he could imagine.
“Just the suddenness of it surprised me. The fact that it happened didn’t totally surprise me. I knew that something like that was possible.”
Private First Class Brian Worth got shrapnel wounds to his back during the battle, as Captain Cirino explains.
“Worth received his wound probably from shrapnel that should have hit me. I was standing two feet (less than one meter) away from him. I heard him yell: “Grenade!” He basically slammed into the back of me as the grenade fragments hit him. That young soldier refused to be evacuated. I saw his wound. I said: “We need to get you back to the medics.” He said: “No sir, I want to stay here and fight.” He’s a hero in my mind and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Private Worth says the battle proves that Afghanistan is still a dangerous place.
“It’s kind of ironic. Public perception is that things are kind of dying down here. You know, there’s kind of a lull in the fighting. But then this happened. But they had told us when we were going, not to believe that. There’s a very real threat there. And, anyone who has been there can feel it in the air — just looking at the people. It’s not a very hospitable environment.”
Captain Cirino says that as the grenades flew, he radioed in for air support. The warplanes arrived quickly and pounded the compound for about two hours. Captain Cirino says when the bombing stopped, the place had been reduced to rubble.
“At the conclusion of the close air support, there was basically nothing left of this compound standing. A couple of scattered walls. You couldn’t see in parts of it. But most of the trees had been blown down in the surrounding area. And, I remember talking to the commander on the scene there and saying: ‘Nobody could have possible lived through that. There’s absolutely no way.'”
But he was wrong. As a team of about 10 American soldiers walked in to assess the situation, yet another grenade went off, inflicting a serious head wound on a Special Forces soldier.
That grenade was tossed by an enemy soldier who had survived the bombardment. American troops then shot him, but survived that, as well. The man is now a prisoner. He is getting treatment from U-S Army doctors at the Bagram hospital. He is expected to live and will face interrogation.
Captain Cirino says that shows the kind of enemy the Americans face in Afghanistan.
“I realize what we’re up against here. These are dedicated, dedicated people. They believe in what they are doing, no matter how twisted it might be. And, I knew from minute one that those soldiers in there, we were going to have to fight until they were dead. They were not going to come out.”
Still, Captain Cirino says, his men are ready, if the enemy wants to fight.
“I honestly believe that the al-Qaida and Taleban would love to kill as many Americans as they can, whether it’s overseas or in America. And, we knew that coming here. Every soldier in my company — these soldiers beside me — we have resolved to do a job here and we’re going to stay until it’s done.”
The battle near Khost ended with two Afghan militiamen killed and five Americans wounded. The American troops saw the bodies of three dead enemy soldiers. They suspect more are buried under the rubble. And, there is the one suspected al-Qaida prisoner — the incredible survivor who tried to fight to the death, but in the end refused to die.
A retired U.S. soldier who was ambushed by armed fighters holed up in the mud compound where Omar Khadr was captured said on Tuesday the Canadian deserves to be at Guantanamo Bay.
Sergeant Layne Morris said he had not seen the dramatic interrogation video released by Mr. Khadr’s lawyers, in which the young detainee cries for help, but he brushed off the footage as a public relations exercise. Sgt. Morris said the defense lawyers’ strategy seemed to be to win sympathy for their client, and that he found it “troublesome” the public had to be constantly reminded of what Mr. Khadr is alleged to have done six years ago.
“My lasting image of Omar is of him crouched in the rubble waiting for U.S. troops to get close enough so he could take one of them out, and he did that successfully and that is the underlying reason why we’re all here in the first place,” Sgt. Morris said.
“Omar is not a kid that was just snatched up off the street somewhere and has been wrongly charged and judged unfairly. I think he is precisely where he needs to be. He’s earned that stay.”
Sgt. Morris was serving with a Special Forces unit in eastern Afghanistan when his patrol came under fire on July 27, 2002. Pro-Taliban fighters shot dead two Afghan Militia Force troops and then opened fire on the Americans.
When the gun battle ended 4½ hours later, Sergeant Christopher Speer was dead and Sgt. Morris had shrapnel wounds that would cost him his eye. The Americans shot Mr. Khadr, then 15, as they entered the compound and brought him to Bagram air base. He is now being held at the controversial U.S. military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He has been charged with throwing the hand grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, although evidence has since surfaced suggesting that another fighter may have been responsible. Sgt. Morris says Mr. Khadr must have thrown the grenade because he was the only one left alive in the compound.
On Tuesday, Mr. Khadr’s lawyers released seven hours of video footage that showed him being questioned by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The lawyers said it was “beyond comprehension” that the Prime Minister had not yet returned Mr. Khadr to Canada.
“I haven’t had a chance to look at it,” Sgt. Morris, who lives in Utah, said of the video, “but I guess my thoughts are that if I’m ever in trouble, that’s a bunch of defense attorneys that I’d like.
“They don’t seem to be doing a whole lot of lawyering work. It’s mostly PR work. And so it’s kind of troublesome that the other side of the story has to be continually told in the media just to counter what the lawyers are trying to do in public.”
Sgt. Morris and the widow of Sgt. Speer, Tabitha Speer, won a $102-million lawsuit against Mr. Khadr’s father, Ahmed Khadr, a suspected al-Qaeda financier killed by Pakistani troops in 2003. Their lawyer, Don Winder, said on Tuesday he had been in touch with the Canadian government about collecting from the family.
Khadr case continues amid “child soldier” debate
By Army Spc. Shanita Simmons
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs
A U.S. military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay heard arguments Monday on whether Omar Khadr is properly charged under the Military Commissions Act for crimes he allegedly committed while fighting against American forces in Afghanistan in 2002.
Khadr’s case has drawn considerable attention as a child soldier since he was captured at age 15 and then detained within the facilities here. The only Canadian being held in Guantanamo Bay, Khadr is accused of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and providing material support for terrorism.
Prosecution and defense counsel filed 16 motions with the military commission and orally argued six during the proceedings. Khadr, a slim young man who adorned a neatly trimmed, short, black beard during the proceeding, wore a white shirt and pants as he sat beside his defense counsels.
Defense Attorney Rebecca Snyder urged Judge Army Col. Peter Brownback to dismiss the charges brought by the government against Khadr since he was charged in violation of the Ex Post Facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. Since the acts resulting in the charges were committed before the Military Commissions Act was promulgated, the defense argued that Congress could not retroactively pass “penal legislation” that was created after the period when Khadr committed the alleged criminal acts. However, Prosecuting Attorney Andy Goldstein explained that the MCA was created to prosecute unlawful enemy combatants captured after Sept. 11 whose acts led up to the attacks. Thus, the prosecution concluded that there was clear intent by Congress to apply the legislation retroactively.
Goldstein also disputed the defense claim that Khadr is afforded Ex Post Facto protections under the Constitution. He cited a District of Columbia Circuit Court case that denies detainees certain constitutional rights.
During the proceedings, Snyder also claimed the military commissions lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Khadr because the charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism are not laws of war violations. Rather than facing a commission, Snyder argued that Khadr should be subject to a domestic court. However, Goldstein explained that the criminal acts of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism are violations of the laws of war that had been codified into the MCA.
Marine Maj. Jeffery Groharing, an attorney for the prosecution, defended the government’s charges of murder and attempted murder against Khadr by disputing the defense’s claim that terrorism by definition is not a war crime. Groharing stated the evidence presented at trial will show that Khadr was captured in Afghanistan while wearing civilian attire, and he received al Qaida training in which he learned how to use firearms and make explosives.
Groharing said that comparing Khadr’s acts as an alleged member of a terrorist organization to those committed by an American soldier “is an insult to all those who wear the uniform.” Groharing added that Khadr could be brought up for charges under the MCA as an alien unlawful enemy combatant.
During the proceeding, Defense Attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr. Willam Kuebler questioned whether a child soldier could be held criminally liable under the MCA. Kuebler added that the court could not believe that Congress intended a “‘one size fits all’ justice system” without expressly saying so.
During the proceeding, the prosecution asserted that Congress’ definition of “persons” in the MCA as “any infant members of an organization” supports the intent to include children when charging individuals under the act. During the proceeding, Kuebler called Khadr a “victim” and said he should be recognized as a child soldier who was involuntarily placed on the battlefield by a non state actor. In support of this argument, Kuebler cited the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts (“Protocol”), which prohibits the employment of children under age 17 in the Armed Forces. He explained that since Congress recognized a juvenile’s inability to meet a “soldier status,” there is an assumption that child soldiers should not be prosecuted like adult soldiers. The prosecution claimed that Kuebler’s arguments were based on a legal fallacy since there are historical accounts of tribunals that have exercised jurisdiction over war criminals under the age of 18. The prosecution supported its argument by mentioning the British Military Court, which tried a 15-year-old for war crimes, and the Permanent Military Tribunal at Metz, which exercised jurisdiction over three 16-year-old German girls. The prosecution stated that Kuebler’s use of the Protocol to support Congressional intent was baseless since this treaty applies to soldiers enlisted in an army and not to alien unlawful enemy combatants.
During the hearing, defense and prosecution attorneys argued other issues such as whether the prosecution could engage in ex parte communications with the judge to discuss classified evidence and whether spying is a chargeable offense under the MCA. Khadr’s case was reopened on Sept. 9, 2007. The Court of Military Commissions review overturned a dismissal of all charges against him.