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Chaplain Keith Jackson walks out of the church with Tabitha Speer, the wife of Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer, at the Village Chapel in Pinehurst Tuesday afternoon 8/13/2002. Speer was killed in action in Afghanistan

The Fayetteville Observer

Nearly a decade after the Canadian teenager and an American soldier tried to kill each other on an Afghan battlefield, Omar Khadr faced the soldier's widow and said he was "sorry." Steely-eyed and fighting back tears, she rejected his apology.

"I am really, really sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family," said Mr. Khadr, now a hulking 24-year-old who bears little resemblance to the fresh-faced 15-year-old he was the day he admits he threw a grenade that killed Sergeant Christopher Speer, a special forces medic.

"You will forever be a murderer in my eyes. It doesn't matter what you say," widow Tabitha Speer said, fighting to keep her composure in a hushed Guantanamo Bay courtroom.

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"I've heard over and over how he's the victim, he's the child," she said, glaring at Mr. Khadr. "He made a choice. My children had no choice. … [They]didn't deserve to have their father taken by someone unworthy like you."

It was a day filled with emotion and tears, the climactic end to years of legal wrangling and delays over whether Mr. Khadr should even be on trial and whether the controversial Bush-era Guantanamo war-crimes tribunals - retained by President Barrack Obama - could mete out justice in the war on terrorism.

In evident pain, Mrs. Speer recalled the frantic flight to Germany to the bedside of her mortally wounded husband, who lingered for 12 days despite severe head injuries inflicted by the grenade. She described the horrific moment when she had to tell the couple's then three-year-old daughter, Taryn, that her father was dead.

"She let out a scream," Mrs. Speer said. "At that moment, a part of my daughter died with my husband. She was three and a half years old."

Soldiers in the court sobbed. So did human-rights observers who have consistently decried the effort to put Mr. Khadr on trial - the only combatant accused of murder in the battlefield death of an American solider after more than 5,000 killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hours after Mrs. Speer told of her family torn apart, of the loss of a devoted husband and loving father who wanted to become a doctor, Mr. Khadr stood in the witness stand and spoke publicly for the first time since he was airlifted, near death, shot twice and blind, to a U.S. military hospital after his capture.

As Mr. Khadr spoke, Mrs. Speer looked coldly at him, gripped the armrests of her front-row seat in the courtroom. When the man who killed her husband finished, she shook her head - emphatically rejecting the apology - and then, after Mr. Khadr was marched away by his guards, she turned and hugged the supporters who have joined her for every session of the sentencing phase this week.

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In his brief statement, Mr. Khadr said he carried no anger in his heart. He said he had learned from reading Nelson Mandela that "you won't gain anything from hate."

"Love and forgiveness are more constructive, they will bring people together and solve lots of problems," he added.

Mr. Khadr spoke without being sworn in, meaning he avoids cross-examination. He spoke for four minutes. Mrs. Speer spoke for almost an hour.

Prosecution psychiatric witnesses have depicted the Canadian-born Mr. Khadr as an unrepentant, remorseless, violent militant who is likely to emerge from prison as a powerful and dangerous al-Qaeda leader.

The defence - and Mr. Khadr's legion of human-rights advocates - regard him as a child solider, a victim of his al-Qaeda father's violent zealotry, who has been unfairly persecuted in a travesty of justice at Guantanamo's war-crimes tribunals.

But this week, the big issues of justice were eclipsed by Mr. Khadr's decision to plead guilty to murder, terrorism and spying in exchange for an eight-year sentence, with one more year in Guantanamo before he can seek repatriation to Canada to serve the remainder.

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In his brief statement, Mr. Khadr said he had no hate in his heart, said he wanted to attend a small, avowedly Christian college in Alberta, and eventually become a doctor.

His Canadian legal team will likely claim he is entitled to immediate release once he returns to Canada, based on the nine years he will have already spent in U.S. custody and that fact that he was only 15 years old when he committed the crimes.

In Ottawa, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon continued to say the Conservative government isn't party to the plea deal. "The government of Canada is not involved," he said. But military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish has already said he will release the exchange of diplomatic notes between Canada and the United States as soon as the panel announces its sentence.

Meanwhile, the international attention the case has attracted continues. "In every sense Omar represents the classic child soldier narrative," Radhika Coomaraswamy, a UN undersecretary-general, said in a statement.

Mr. Khadr's efforts to demonstrate that he is a good candidate for rehabilitation got a unexpected boost Thursday when a senior U.S. legal officer, Navy Captain Patrick McCarthy - testifying via video link from Kabul - said he was quite unlike the violent, hardened radicals who formed most of Guantanamo's detainee population.

"Fifteen-year-olds, in my opinion, should not be held to the same level of accountability as adults," said Capt. McCarthy, who was senior legal representative at Guantanamo for two years and said he dealt frequently with Mr. Khadr, the only Canadian and last remaining foreigner.

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The court also heard from Arlette Zinck, an English professor at a small Alberta college, who produced a short book report written by Mr. Khadr and said she has corresponded with him. Dr. Zinck said she hoped he would attend the avowedly Christian college, although she admitted under cross-examination that Kings University College had explicitly said she had no authority to offer him a place and that she couldn't speak on behalf of the institution.

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