UNICEF chief warns of ‘dangerous’ precedent trying Guantanamo child soldier

By John Heilprin, AP
Thursday, May 27, 2010

UNICEF head concerned for Guantanamo child soldier

UNITED NATIONS — UNICEF head Anthony Lake said Thursday that more youths could be victimized by war if the U.S. military tries “the last child soldier” held at Guantanamo Bay.

Lake said UNICEF is concerned about the impending July trial for a 23-year-old Canadian prisoner, who was captured after a battle at an al-Qaida stronghold.

The case was the first called by the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals under U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempt to reform the system and, ironically, Lake is a foreign policy expert who served as an adviser to Obama.

“Omar Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 for crimes he is alleged to have committed when he was a child of 15 years of age. He is the last child soldier held in Guantanamo Bay,” Lake said. “The prosecution of Omar Khadr may set a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts.”

Khadr, the son of a slain al-Qaida financier, faces trial on charges that include supporting terrorism and murder.

He is accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a firefight and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

His lawyers deny he threw the grenade and argue that Khadr, the last Westerner at Guantanamo, deserves leniency because he was a teenager at the time. U.S. military prosecutors offered a plea bargain of five years in prison to Khadr, who rejected the offer, The Toronto Star reported.

Lake, who was national security adviser to former President Bill Clinton, says the recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible — the adult recruiters — should be prosecuted.

He says anyone prosecuted for offenses allegedly committed as a child should be treated according to international juvenile justice standards to afford special protections.

“The children involved are victims, acting under coercion,” Lake said.

“Former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution,” he added. “Omar Khadr should not be prosecuted by a tribunal that is neither equipped nor required to provide these protections and meet these standards.”

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