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Omar Khadr’s Lawyer William Kuebler Fired

April 7, 2009

Not by Omar Khadr, but by his US Military bosses.

Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler was fired on Friday April 3rd after filing a formal complaint against his boss, Pentagon chief defence lawyer Colonel Peter Masciola. Kuebler felt that Masicola’s support for military prosecution of Omar Khadr (instead of a civilian trial or repatriation to Canada) placed him in a conflict of interest. According to the CBC, all Masicola has said about the incident is that Kuebler was fired so that the military can pursue “a client-centred representation.”

It seems unlikely that the client Masicola is referring to is Omar Khadr himself. Lt. Cmdr Kuebler has been a passionate advocate for Khadr, continuously driving home the point that Khadr should be considered a child soldier (something our PM isn’t very clear on). He’s also vocally opposed the military trials – watch the video above for a sample of his take on the issue.

I’ve heard Kuebler speak twice – the last time was just two days before his dismissal. Both times, he seemed to feel confident that his status as a lawyer would prevent him from too much retribution within the military.  He also pointed out that attempts to trash the reputation of Khadr’s first military lawyer, Colby Vokey, didn’t get anywhere – though they did eventually push him to retire from the navy.

I’ve read two arguments that are pro-firing Kuebler – one is that he was driven by ego and difficult to work with (implied in this CTV article), and the other (in this Opinio Juris comment feed) is that he basically only has the authority, as a military officer, to defend Khadr in the context of the (pre-Obama 120-day hiatus) upcoming military trial, not to advocate for other courses of action. I noted that the commenter who made this argument seemed to be basing it on the assumption that Khadr “is an enemy of the US dedicated to killing as many Americans as possible” – this seems somehow problematic, no? Basing our decisions on how to best represent Guantanamo detainees on an assumption of their guilt?

And what is the Canadian government likely to do about this? The short answer is nothing, especially as the only public reaction so far has been a very small protest led by an NDP MP on the hill. So Khadr stays in Guantanamo, and we stay indifferent. Business as usual.

UPDATE: William Kuebler has been reinstated as the lawyer in the Omar Khadr case – Military Judge Colonel Patrick Parrish reinstated Kuebler earlier today.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2009 6:02 am

    Fired (NOT by his client), reinstated (also NOT by his client), and now I hear the decision to reinstate him is being appealed. This is a bit of a farce, eh?

    As renee said, this was a really good appraisal of the case, I think. A couple of points. First, if the second argument is correct, and military lawyers have a responsibility not to engage in the sort of activity that Kuebler has been doing, then that illustrates one of the ways in which this trial is fundamentally unjust. Military lawyers in this case clearly would be more limited than civilian ones – because in my mind Kuebler is doing exactly what he should be doing, which is recognizing that there are systemic and political angles going on here that are bigger than just his client, and he’s working those angles to help his client. But Khadr is a civilian – he is not military. So his rights to an attorney shouldn’t have been restricted by military regulation.

    Moreover, I’m not sure I buy that argument. After all, Kuebler is a military lawyer too, and presumably knows the rules that restrain him. As a lawyer I’m sure he would follow those rules – at least the letter of them. And if he’d broken them, surely he would be being punished, not just reassigned. I believe Kuebler is being removed because he stepped on too many toes, not because he wasn’t doing his job right.

    Second, I appreciate your point about how that line of argument assumes Khadr’s guilt, but if we were really beginning from an assumption of innocence, then the miscarriage of justice started far, far before now. I’m sure you’d agree.

    • April 9, 2009 4:15 pm

      yep dave, i definitely agree that the presumption of khadr’s guilt started long, long ago. i’m very curious about what obama will eventually decide to do about guantanamo – and about bhagram air base, which seems to be getting more attention lately.

  2. Howard Gilbert permalink
    April 7, 2009 4:17 pm

    Khadr may be an “an enemy of the US” and still be innocent of the charges made against him. The “enemy” part was just to explain that, in general, while a US lawyer is obliged to mount a vigorous defense of his client in court, he steps into a logical minefield if his client is a dedicated enemy of the country and he tries to be a vigorous advocate for his client’s interests outside of court.

    Even if Khadr is a dangerous person, a dedicated enemy, and the person who threw the grenade that killed Sargent Speer, he still is probably not guilty of the nonsense charge of “murder in violation of the laws of war” and certainly not guilty of “spying” and some of the other minor charges in the most recent charge sheet. If Khadr is actually innocent (of the charges as they are written, not innocent of the murder itself) then there is even more reason for his defense attorney to work hard to get him acquitted instead of talking to Canadian politicians. In fact, only if he was obviously guilty and had no chance of being acquitted would there be an excuse for Kuebler giving up on a defense and instead spend time on the desperate ploy of getting Canadian intervention in the case.

    • April 9, 2009 4:13 pm

      thank you for your comment howard. while i don’t agree with you that kuebler should restrict himself to working on khadr’s defense in the (possibly) upcoming military trial, i really appreciate the fact that you’re offering a different point of view on the matter. what are the actual written guidelines for military lawyers? do they specify that they are supposed to confine themselves to working on military trials?

    • Rev Dave permalink
      April 9, 2009 4:20 pm

      I’m not sure I agree. Khadr is a Canadian citizen; other U.S. allies have had success getting their citizens out of Guantanamo. And at this point, I think it would be very dubious to put much confidence in the military court system in Guantanamo to deliver a fair and legitimate verdict. It is a rigged game. The fact that charges have even been brought in this case proves that – if he really had committed the acts in question, he would be a child soldier anyways. So for his lawyer to attempt to find solutions outside of the Guantanamo game, it seems to me, is still in the best interests of his client. I don’t think it says anything one way or the other about his guilt.

      There are, I suspect, more reasons than just being obviously guilty for one to have little chance of being acquitted, let alone released, from Guantanamo Bay.

  3. April 7, 2009 4:09 pm


    Any thoughts on why Kuebler was reinstated? I commend the BC Civil Liberties for recognizing Kuebler with an award. He’s a fascinating legal mind who has shone the light on a dark corner of U.S. and Canadian foreign policy.

    • April 9, 2009 4:14 pm

      i have no idea why he was reinstated – i really wish i knew. perhaps there was some realization that firing him would just bring more attention to the case?

      • Rev Dave permalink
        April 9, 2009 4:22 pm

        I’m speculating too, of course, but I would imagine there’s more to it than that. It was the judge who reinstated him, not Masciola, who apparently opposes the ruling. I would suspect there is some sort of difference in interpretation over who has the power to dismiss defence lawyers.

  4. reneethewriter permalink
    April 7, 2009 3:47 pm

    Fascinating, first-rate summary, Reilly – much appreciated. Thx as well, for the recent update on Kuebler ‘s re/instatement. R

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