Local Military Widow Testifies
A Pinehurst mother has finally confronted the man who murdered her Green Beret husband in 2002.
Tabitha Speer looked at Omar Khadr from the witness stand last week as the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal considered his sentence. She told the court about the impact on the family after her husband, Christopher, died, according to accounts of the proceedings.
Khadr was 15 years old when he threw the grenade that mortally wounded Speer. On July 27, 2002, Speer, then 28, was on a joint reconnaissance patrol in eastern Afghanistan with U.S. soldiers and Afghan militiamen when attackers ambushed the patrol with small arms fire in an area about 7.5 miles east of Khost.
Two Afghan militiamen died during the firefight, which lasted several hours. An American reaction force came to the ambushed soldiers’ aid. By the end of the fight, about 100 coalition soldiers were on the scene. Troops also called in air support.
Speer died after more than a week of treatment at a hospital in Germany. His wife was in Michigan visiting family when the attack occurred. When the Department of Defense told her that her husband had been wounded, she flew to Germany to be by his side. Funeral services were held at the Village Chapel in Pinehurst.
Speer was born in Denver, Colo. He joined the Army in 1992. By 1997, he was a Special Forces Medical Sergeant assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. Before the war, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Besides his wife, survivors include his daughter, Taryn, and his son, Tanner.
The Pilot was unable to contact Tabitha Speer, who still lives in Pinehurst, for comment.
Khadr is a Canadian who pleaded guilty in October to five charges against him, including murder and supporting terrorism in Afghanistan. His plea was part of an agreement with prosecutors. The tribunal sentenced him to 40 years, but the agreement means he will be returned to Canada in a year, where many expect his sentence to be reduced.
He remains a murderer in the eyes of Speer’s widow, as she told the tribunal. In earlier sworn testimony, she said Khadr made a choice to stay and fight at the al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan, where her husband was mortally wounded by the grenade that Khadr admitted throwing.
Six days before, Speer had walked into a minefield and rescued two wounded Afghan children, fellow soldiers said during his funeral. They told of his applying a tourniquet to one child and bandaging the other. After treating the children, Speer stopped a passing military truck to take them to a U.S. Army field hospital. They said he saved those children.
His death devastated the family, Tabitha Speer told the tribunal. In earlier sworn testimony given as part of a deposition in a civil suit, she told of their last parting as he prepared for deployment.
“Christopher woke up before everyone to prepare breakfast,” she said. “After having breakfast with the kids, we took quite a number of photographs. Christopher then loaded up all his gear, gave his ﬁnal round of hugs and kisses, said his ﬁnal ‘I love yous’ and left. That was the last time I would ever see my husband. My children would never see their dad again.
“After Christopher departed, I reﬂected on what a great marriage and family we had. I thought we would be together forever to watch our children grow. I had no idea that within days, my world would be torn apart.”
She had taken the children to Michigan to visit their grandparents when she got the phone call that her husband had been injured. Arrangements were made to fly her to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where her husband later died. She had to tell the children.
“After I returned to North Carolina, my family gathered,” she said in the deposition. “I could not fathom how empty our house was. I sat in the middle of the living room floor, explaining to Taryn what happened to Daddy. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. I needed to be strong for Taryn and Tanner but needed to grieve myself. Telling a little girl her daddy would not be coming home was excruciating.
“While I was speaking to Taryn, I saw fear, abandonment and, ultimately, overwhelming sadness in her eyes. Taryn became hysterical and began to cry. I explained to Taryn that Daddy had been injured and that his injuries had been too bad so he had gone to heaven. I explained to Taryn that Daddy would always be with us now and that he would be an angel watching over us. I explained that Daddy would never miss out on anything.”
A memorial fund to benefit the family was opened at the Pinehurst office of BB&T. Several local companies and even a global corporation pledged money to help the Speers. A representative from the corporation (which did not want its name revealed) said the company hoped the money could be a part of a college fund for Speer’s children.
Tabitha Speer’s testimony at Guantanamo told about the impact of her husband’s death on Taryn, now 11, and Tanner, now 8. Tanner was so young at the time that he does not remember his father, Tabitha Speer testified. She read to the court letters from her children to Khadr and showed photos of her husband with their children.
“We were a family unit, with a beautiful daughter and handsome son,” she said in her deposition. “Surviving every day without Christopher has been utter hell. Taryn will never have the privilege of being walked down the aisle on her wedding day by her father.
“At the time of Christopher’s deployment, Tanner was only 9 months old. Tanner will never know his father, other than through stories or pictures. Tanner will never know the feeling of wrestling on the grass with his dad.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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