Utah judge awards $134M in suit over death of soldiers

Thursday , July 02, 2015 - 5:32 PM

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge in Utah has awarded $134.2 million to an American solider injured in Afghanistan and the widow of another soldier killed there in a lawsuit filed against a Canadian man who pleaded guilty in a grenade attack involving the two soldiers when he was 15.

However, the plaintiffs acknowledge there is little chance they will collect any of the money.

“It’s really more of a statement case, I think, than a desire to collect this,” lawyer Laura Tanner, who represents the plaintiffs, said Thursday

She said the judgment sends a message that the U.S. has a civil system in place to hold terrorists responsible.

Still, lawyers are seeking a Canadian law firm to help collect the money from 28-year-old Omar Khadr, who was released from a Canadian prison last month, Tanner said.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell handed down the default judgment on June 8 after the suit got no answer from Khadr.

“Omar Khadr has been in jail so he can’t defend himself,” said his attorney Dennis Edney. Khadr has filed a $20 million wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the Canadian government.

Khadr pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed U.S. solider Christopher Speer and injured Layne Morris in 2002. He spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba, and was transferred to Canada in 2012.

Edney said Khadr signed a 2010 plea deal under duress so he could return to Canada, and there’s no evidence he actually committed the attack. Collecting the judgment may prove difficult, he said.

Tanner countered that Khadr could have backed out of the plea if he wasn’t guilty.

The lawsuit sought damages for Speer’s wrongful death and injuries to Morris, who was blinded in one eye.

The case against Toronto-born Khadr drew criticism from human rights groups because he was captured at age 15 and seriously wounded during a four-hour battle at an Afghanistan al-Qaida compound in 2002.

His lawyers contended he was groomed to be a child soldier, forced into fighting the U.S. by a radical father who was accused of being a senior al-Qaida financier. The plea deal prohibited Khadr from calling witnesses to those circumstances at his sentencing.

Military prosecutors in the case, meanwhile, portrayed Khadr as a dangerous terrorist.

After his release in May, Khdar apologized to the families of the victims. He said he rejects violent jihad and wants a fresh start to finish his education and work in health care.

Morris has criticized the release of Khadr, saying he’s shown a willingness to hurt Canadian society and Western interests.

The suit initially sought about $45 million in damages, but the Anti-Terrorism Act calls for such awards to be tripled, Tanner said.

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