Guantanamo torture claims at issue as court hears Khadr case

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Accused war criminal Omar Khadr says his U.S. captors suffocated him with a bag, terrorized him with barking dogs and threatened him with rape if he didn't cooperate with interrogators.

All of it, he says, happened while he was a teenager in U.S. custody. Pentagon prosecutors dispute every word of it.

Starting on Wednesday, an Army judge will begin to decide whether Khadr's confessions should be thrown out because of his alleged abuse. The war court hearing will be the deepest examination yet of how a captive came to confess in Afghanistan and Guantanamo to Bush administration-era interrogators.

Defense lawyers are asking the judge to stop the Pentagon from using the confessions at the summertime trial of the Toronto-born Khadr, 23, accused of conspiring with al Qaida and murdering a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15.

Absent a plea deal, both sides plan a parade of witnesses -- from FBI agents and interrogators to guards and doctors -- for hearings that adopt Obama administration reforms of the military commissions the president himself once criticized.

Among the reforms: the banning of coerced statements or those obtained using "cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation methods." Prosecutors cannot use an accused's statement if it is proved he was subjected to such treatment.

With the 9/11 trial in limbo, the hearings also put a spotlight on this remote base where confessed mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his four fellow alleged conspirators are held in seclusion awaiting a decision on how and where they might face a Sept. 11 mass murder trial.

Khadr is Guantanamo's youngest prisoner, and the only Westerner, among the 183 captives currently held here.

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