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Guantanamo Lawyer Calls Military Tribunals Illegal

Dennis Edney, who is representing Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr, spoke to USF law students and faculty Sept. 10.

The talk was sponsored by the American Constitution Society student group.

"The military commission process is a sham and a fake," Dennis Edney told a rapt audience of law students and faculty. "I wrestle with it. By participating are we not legitimizing an illegitimate process?"

Edney represents Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen detained in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 15 who has been charged with killing an American soldier during a firefight at an al Qaeda compound where he was staying with associates of his father's. Khadr is currently the youngest Guantanamo Bay prisoner and the only Westerner to be held at the facility.

Khadr was imprisoned at Guantanamo for three years before charges were brought against him and is still there today. His detainment has included 18 months in solitary confinement, and various forms of torture including a sleep deprivation program known to cause hysteria and insanity, Edney said. He stays in a cold cell that is lit 24 hours a day by fluorescent lights. He has been chained in an interrogation room, surrounded by barking dogs while wearing a bag over his head, hung by his wrists, and threatened with rape.

"The abuse would shock the consciousness of any reasonable person," Edney said.

Khadr's charges include murder and attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. However, Edney argued, such charges are in violation of international law because the Geneva Conventions require that, because he was just 15 at the time of the incident, he be treated as a victim of war.

In his introduction of Edney, USF School of Law Professor Peter Jan Honigsberg, who is writing a book on human rights and Guantanamo Bay, said that in the wake of 9/11, "Edney was among the lawyers who were often called unpatriotic but still stood up and said ‘we're going to fight for what matters, which is the rule of law.'"

Edney travels extensively at his own expense to talk about Khadr's plight. The question that persists, he said, is "How is this all possible? What happened to human dignity? Our law societies and associations have been mute in talking about the lack of rule of law. The list of crimes against Omar by those who have held him in limbo for the last six years is surely much longer" than Omar's charges.

Edney says he tries not to focus on guilt or innocence but rather on the importance of getting a fair trial for his client. But for now, he said, Khadr faces an "illegal process that will undoubtedly find him guilty unless a political solution is found."

Edney advised the aspiring lawyers in the room that "it will not be your billable hours" that distinguish their careers in law. "It will be how you have participated in the cause of justice….. You can be successful, our legal system does work, but sometimes at glacial speed. But you get there in the end."