Omar Khadr: The Youngest Terrorist?

Was Only 15 Years Old When He Was Captured In Afghanistan

Omar Khadr seems an unlikely poster boy for the war on terror. Khadr is a Canadian citizen, he likes Harry Potter, and he was only 15 years old when he was captured by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. And that's what makes his case so controversial: his age.

As correspondent Bob Simon reports, Omar Khadr is the only person in modern history to be charged for war crimes he allegedly committed while a minor.

60 Minutes got a rare glimpse into a Guantanamo case -- one of the first that will be prosecuted. Consider this: is Omar Khadr a hardened terrorist -- a bad seed, or an obedient son, led astray by his family?



The U.S. accuses Omar Khadr of murdering an American soldier, conspiracy, spying and more, all done, they say, when he was just 15 years old. Khadr has been detained in Guantanamo Bay for five years, much of it in a maximum security prison, in a cell with no windows, awaiting a military trial. His lawyers say that due to his age when he was taken prisoner, he should have been considered a child soldier and shouldn't be there at all.

As is, the U.S. calls him an unlawful enemy combatant, a euphemism for terrorist. 60 Minutes was not allowed to speak to Omar Khadr. But Dennis Edney, one of his lawyers, has visited him in Guantanamo several times.

"He's been in confinement for five years. Think of that. Think of locking a dog in a cage for five years. That's what's happened to Omar Khadr," Edney tells Simon.

But Omar Khadr faces serious charges and, if convicted, could face up to life in prison. He was captured in eastern Afghanistan, a region notorious for harboring members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2002, U.S. Special Forces were patrolling the area when they got a tip that some al Qaeda members were holed up nearby.

Back then, Layne Morris was Sergeant Layne Morris. When his unit approached a walled compound, he says al Qaeda gunmen opened fire, killing Morris' interpreters.

"These guys just shot them point blank in the face," Morris says.

He says two interpreters were killed instantly. And then Sgt. Morris felt something hit his right eye.

"A piece of the hand grenade shrapnel cut the optic nerve," he says. "So I'm blind in one eye."

The fighting went on for hours. By the time it was over, the compound was completely destroyed by 500 pound bombs.

Morris didn't think anybody inside the compound could still be alive. "The assumption was that everybody's dead in there," he says.

But when soldiers went in, someone threw a hand grenade at them. One of the medics, Sergeant Christopher Speer, was killed. Then they found Omar Khadr, barely alive, lying in the rubble and blinded in one eye, just like Layne Morris.

"He's lucky," Morris says. "Because he killed one medic. The second medic saved his life."

Asked if the medic described the kid, Morris tells Simon, "All he said was, 'Man, we got up on that kid and he begged us to kill him.' He said 'Just kill me.'"

And he said it in perfect English.

The U.S. Department of Defense declined to give 60 Minutes an interview about the Khadr case, so Simon spoke to retired General John Altenburg, a lawyer who reviewed the initial evidence against Khadr and counseled the military to put him on trial for war crimes.

"I understand that the evidence reveals that a grenade was thrown over a wall, but that nobody saw him throw it," Simon remarks.

"I think it's fair to say that no person saw him actually throw the grenade," Altenburg replies.

So why the charges?

Says Altenburg, "Because there is circumstantial evidence that would indicate he was the one who threw the grenade."

Meaning no one else was found alive who could have thrown it.

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