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Khadr tells Guantanamo jury of interrogators' rape threats

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — Confessed war criminal Omar Khadr, through his Army lawyer, told his military jury Friday that as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan, U.S. interrogators told him a horrifying tale of being gang raped to death.

Khadr told the story in a written statement to the jury, which is scheduled to start deliberations Saturday on whether to give him the maximum of life in prison.

He pleaded guilty this week to hurling a hand grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He also admitted to spying on U.S. forces, planting mines and training with al Qaida.

"I know it does not change what I did but I hope you will think about it when punishing me," Khadr said in his statement.

Unless the jury gives him less than eight years in pirson, the sentence will be largely ceremonial.

The U.S. government in a plea deal agreed that Khadr will spend only one more year in Guantánamo before it supports Khadr's petition to serve seven more years in his native Canada. Ottawa so far has not agreed to the deal.

The narrative, read aloud in court by Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, resurrected one of the darkest episodes of the Toronto-born teen's eight years in U.S. military custody.

To soften Khadr up, U.S. military interrogators conjured up a make-believe story:

They said they sent an uncooperative Afghan kid to a U.S. prison with "a bunch of, you know, big black guys and, you know, big Nazis.'' Prisoners singled out the Afghan as Muslim, gang raped him and he apparently died.

The narrative was nearly identical to that of a former U.S. Army, Joshua Claus, who told the war court in April that he had told such a tale to Khadr and that the story was an authorized post 9/11 intelligence technique. Claus' interrogation of Khadr took place in the summer of 2002 after he'd been released from a military hospital where he was treated for severe wounds he suffered when he was captured. Testimony earlier this year indicated that Khadr, who'd been shot twice and been blinded in one eye, was shackled to a stretcher at Bagram air base in Afghanistan when his first interrogation took place.

Prosecutors had claimed for years that Khadr lied about being abused at Bagram. Khadr's military judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, accepted Claus' testimony but ruled this summer that the behavior was not tantamount to torture.

Friday, he allowed Khadr's lawyer to read Khadr's version of what happened to to the jury.

The judge also permitted the prosecution to submit a single photograph to the jury, but it was not shown to reporters. Reporters asked for a copy and were awaiting a reply Friday.

Left unsaid in court was why Khadr told this particular story. But a lieutenant colonel with a Military Police background on the jury had earlier inquired about Khadr's conditions of confinement and prosecutors had sought to cast him as a misbehaved captive.

They dug into detention records and highlighted when he cursed at guards, at one point calling an African American woman guard a "slave,'' "bitch'' and "whore'' -- episodes logged at Guantánamo, where Khadr was sent once he turned 16 at Bagram.

The seven member jurors, including a Gulf War pilot from the Navy and a woman Marine with a Purple Heart, were released for the day to let the judge and lawyers prepare for closing arguments.

Jurors get a work sheet with space to fill in how many years Khadr should serve for each of his five war crimes convictions. The war court also lets the jury impose fines.

Khadr's father is dead, killed by Pakistani troops in a security raid. His mother and siblings survive on welfare in a Toronto suburb.