Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Utah Vet Partially Blinded in Afghanistan Sues Alleged Assailant

Andrea Smardon
Layne Morris at his office in West Valley City

A Utah veteran says he’s helping to protect the Western world by suing a former Guantanamo prisoner. Retired special forces sergeant Layne Morris of South Jordan believes Canadian national Omar Khadr is a potential threat to national security. But a senior US military official says Morris is wrong and out of line with his lawsuit.

In 2002, Layne Morris was partially blinded by shrapnel from a grenade thrown from an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan.

“The right eye is blind, but it tracks with my left eye,” Morris says. “A piece of shrapnel went through the optic nerve, so it just cut the power.”

US army combat medic Christopher Speer was killed in the same firefight. Morris believes 15-year-old Omar Khadr was throwing the grenades. Together Morris and widow Tabitha Speer are suing Khadr for 44 million dollars in damages. But Morris says he’s not doing it because he needs the money. He believes Omar Khadr is a threat and that it’s his duty to sue the man.

“It appears to me that he is a significant security risk to our country,” Morris says.

Khadr – a citizen of Canada - has filed a lawsuit of his own against the Canadian government. He accuses intelligence officers of violating his rights when he was first detained, and he’s asking for at least 20 million dollars in damages. Morris wants to make sure Khadr never sees that money.

“I’m convinced that Omar Khadr as a free man with millions of dollars burning a hole in his pocket, those dollars are not going to go towards activities that are in the best interest of my country,” Morris says.  

In 2010, Khadr pled guilty to killing Speer and other war crimes. As a condition of the plea deal, he was released to Canadian custody. He is now serving an 8-year sentence and is eligible to apply for parole. Based on what Morris saw at the Guantanamo hearing, he’s convinced that Khadr is a danger to society – now a grown man with combat experience, religious expertise, knowledge of multiple languages, and demonstrated leadership among fellow detainees.

“He’s got a lot of things that (Osama) Bin Laden didn’t have,” Morris says. “The thing he’s missing is a bunch of money, so for him to get that, and freedom – and it sounds like they are going to parole him in a few years at the latest – we’re really setting this guy up to be a thorn in the side of the west for the rest of his life.” 

“There is just nothing about him that I would compare to Osama bin Laden or any one of these potential terrorists who have threatened in our country,” says retired Brigadier General and Army medical corps officer Steven Xenakis. He says he conducted a thorough psychiatric evaluation of Omar Khadr while he was detained at Guantanamo and has remained in contact with him. Xenakis says Khadr is a pacifist with no interest in politics. He believes Morris’ lawsuit is inappropriate and misguided. 

“A sergeant does not take national security into his own hands,” Xenakis says. “We really in a democracy defer that responsibility to our government who we hope and elect and hold accountable to do it in the most effective way that it can. So I don’t think there is a basis for this kind of a suit.”

But this is not the first time Morris and Speer have sued the Khadr family. The two have already won a civil lawsuit against the estate of Omar Khadr’s father, Achmed Said Khadr. He was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and was killed near the border of Afghanistan in 2004. Morris and Speer were awarded more than 100 million dollars by a US District Judge in 2006. But they never saw that money because Khadr’s assets were seized and frozen by the US government.

Human rights groups have said Achmed Khadr’s son Omar was groomed to be a “child soldier” and should have been sent home for rehabilitation. But Morris says Khadr knew what he was doing….and he was a danger.

“15 is young, but it’s also old enough to be able to display a dedication, and a resolve, and a courage,” Morris says, “It’s really to be admired that a young man at that age did not flake out. It would have been easy to surrender.”

“We cannot judge these detainees at Guantanamo Bay without first giving them a proper trial,” says Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s lawyer in Canada. He says Morris can’t know what happened that day in Afghanistan, because he was removed from the battlefield before Speer was killed. He says Khadr only pled guilty so that he could get out of Guantanamo.

“Omar Khadr at the age of 15 was tortured in Bagram, and then tortured in Guantanamo Bay, a place that has been described internationally as being beyond the rule of law and a torture center,” Edney says. “So one has to look at the context in which Omar Khadr made that plea bargain. Had he not made that plea bargain, he would have been deemed to remain there for the rest of his life.”

The Alberta Court of Appeals ruled last week that Khadr should be transferred from federal prison to a provincial jail, as requested by Edney. National public safety officials said in a statement that the federal government will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada and will fight any attempt to lessen Khadr’s punishment.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.