MIAMI -- Pentagon officials and lawyers for Guantanamo captive Omar Khadr negotiated Thursday toward a plea deal that could avert the resumption of the Canadian's "child soldier" terrorism trial on Monday. Khadr, 24, faces a maximum of life in prison if he is convicted at a military commission scheduled to resume Monday at the U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba.
Canadian lawyer Nate Whitling said a proposed plea agreement was being prepared for Khadr, who was captured at age 15 in a July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.
"We're negotiating," Whitling said Thursday. "There's been an ongoing process and we're hopeful that there will be a deal."
Khadr is accused of murder as a war crime for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., during a U.S. Special Forces raid on a suspected al-Qaida compound near Khost, Afghanistan.
He is Guantanamo's youngest and last Western captive and critics of his looming trial have said he should have been treated not as a war criminal but as a child soldier deserving of rehabilitation.
Whitling is one of two Edmonton, Alberta, attorneys who have represented Khadr and members of his Toronto family in Canadian courts free of charge.
Whitling said he was at the prison in Cuba last week for a weeklong series of meetings with Khadr but declined to elaborate. Fellow Canadian attorney Dennis Edney is to travel to Guantanamo on Saturday to continue meeting with Khadr, Whitling said.
The White House declined comment, referring all questions on the matter to the Defense Department.
The Pentagon plans to fly court staff and observers, including Edney and dozens of journalists, from the Washington area to Guantanamo on Saturday.
The Pentagon's Guantanamo spokeswoman, Army Maj. Tanya Bradsher, and Khadr's military lawyer, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, did not return telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
A source with knowledge of the government's role in plea deal talks said on the condition of anonymity that negotiations had been on-again, off-again for months and have been stuck on whether Khadr would be able to serve any sentence in Canada.
"Negotiation is a fluid process that goes on and on and on," said Whitling, the Canadian lawyer. "It's an ongoing process."
The Khadr trial opened two months ago with the seating of a military jury but was abruptly recessed in the first day after Jackson collapsed in court while questioning the Special Forces operative who shot and captured the Canadian.
Khadr also allegedly helped build and plant mines meant to blow up U.S. forces and their allies in the first year of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, designed to topple the Taliban and rout al-Qaida in reprisal for 9/11.
Khadr has described himself as a victim. He was shot twice through the chest in the firefight and was found nearly dead and semi-conscious, blinded in one eye.
U.S. doctors and medics saved his life then held him in a Bagram, Afghanistan, lockup until he turned 16 and was transferred to Guantanamo. He turned 24 during the recess.