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Khadr judge orders military commission witness identities withheld: NYT

[JURIST] US military judge Col. Peter Brownback has issued a blanket order [PDF text] protecting the identities of prosecution witnesses in the military commission trial of Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive], the New York Times reported Saturday. The order, originally rendered on October 15, was contained within previously unavailable commission documents [PDF text, 694 pages] that were only recently released by the Pentagon. The prosecution requested the measure, citing possible terrorist retaliation against those who testify, and may move to bar any information from the trial that could be used to identify the witnesses. Khadr's lawyer has said that the order unfairly hinders their ability to mount a defense because it prevents him from questioning the reliability of testimony as he is unable to discuss the identities of witnesses with anyone, including Khadr. According to the terms of Brownback's ruling, three weeks before Khadr's trial begins, the prosecution can move to dismiss the order or ask Brownback to extend it.

While prosecutors say they hope to try as many as 80 Guantanamo detainees, Khadr's case is likely to be the first to go trial. In June, a military commission judge dropped war crimes charges against Khadr as improper, but that ruling was reversed in September and Brownback was ordered to hold hearings to determine whether the military commission system had jurisdiction over Khadr. Brownback held a hearing in November, but postponed a decision [CTV report] on whether Khadr is an "unlawful enemy combatant" or an "enemy combatant" until a federal appeals court considers Khadr's civilian appeal in the case. Khadr was detained in Afghanistan in 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban. He is charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. AFP has more.

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