Canada Broke Agreement With Omar Khadr, Lawyers Say

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"The Canadian government has consistently failed to live up to its obligations to Omar Khadr." AFP PHOTO / Pool / Janet Haml

Omar Khadr's Canadian and American lawyers are calling on the Conservative government to live up to its agreement with the United States and approve his transfer to serve out the rest of his sentence for war crimes in Canada.

"The Canadian government has consistently failed to live up to its obligations to Omar Khadr. While Omar, a child, was trapped in a place that has been condemned around the world, the Canadian government stood idly by and said simply, 'We will let the process run its course,'" his Canadian lawyer, John Norris, told an Ottawa press conference Thursday.

"Well, that process has now long run its course.

"In October of 2010, Canada committed to return Omar to complete his sentence in Canada after he served one additional year in Guantanamo Bay. Yet today, he still sits in a cell in Guantanamo, eight months after he was eligible to return to Canada," Norris said.

One of his Pentagon-appointed U.S. lawyers said Khadr is not a threat.

"I've spoken to dozens of guards and staff at Guantanamo Bay and they all say the same thing about Omar Khadr, it needs to be clear to Canadians: He is a good kid and he deserves a chance at life," said Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson.

"Canada must honour the agreement it had with Omar Khadr and return him immediately to Canada."

Jackson added that U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta signed off of Khadr's transfer in April.

"There's a great deal of frustration on the U.S. side," said Jackson. "The U.S. is basically saying: approve this transfer so we can make it happen."

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said again Wednesday there was nothing new to say about the case.

"I've made no decision in that. I'll make a decision in due course, in accordance with the law."

That's been Ottawa's position ever since it became clear that the Americans were seeking to have the Toronto-born Khadr transferred to Canada to serve out his sentence.

Captured in 2002 firefight

Khadr, 25, pleaded guilty in October 2010 to war crimes committed in Afghanistan in 2002 as a 15-year-old — including murder in violation of the rules of war. Khadr himself was badly wounded in a firefight with U.S. soldiers in which a U.S. medic was killed.

In return for his plea before a widely maligned military commission, he was sentenced to eight years, with one year to be served in Guantanamo Bay. He was eligible for transfer last October.

Amid diplomatic wrangling, Ottawa has made it clear it is in no rush to take back the Canadian citizen, who has spent almost 10 years incarcerated at the U.S. naval prison in Cuba.

That decision is giving Canada a bad reputation, Jackson suggested.

"The United States and Canada are supposed to be the good guys .… We're supposed to stand for human rights, dignity and the rule of law, and the cornerstone of the foundation on which the rule of law is built is honouring your agreements."

Senator Roméo Dallaire, who has advocated on behalf of child soldiers, said Khadr was recruited as a 13-year-old and since his arrest following the 2002 battle has clearly had his human rights violated, and he called on the government to explain the delay in bringing him back.

"Why not tell us outright why you don't want him back?"

Ottawa has complained the U.S. was strong-arming Canada into taking Khadr back, while American sources have told The Canadian Press his continued detention was making it harder to enter into plea deals with other Guantanamo prisoners.

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