OTTAWA - The United States didn't have to pressure Canada to repatriate convicted terrorist Omar Khadr from its Cuban military prison, American envoy David Jacobson said Monday.
Toronto-born Khadr returned to Canada on Saturday after 10 years in the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, a facility which has been condemned by human rights organizations across the globe.
The Harper government has been accused of dragging its feet on the 26-year-old's case and Canada's foreign affairs minister even recently suggested the repatriation came after diplomatic pressure from the U.S.
But Jacobson, who spoke to reporters at Ottawa's Carleton University after a speech on the upcoming American presidential election, said Canada and the U.S. collaborated on the Khadr file.
"I'm not sure I'd use the word pressure. We wanted it to happen. We had an understanding with Canada that's public — the fact that they would look favourably on a request," he said.
Jacobson called Khadr's return a small step towards the eventual closure of the prison because the Canadian citizen was the last Western national held there.
U.S. President Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay four years ago when he won the White House, but Jacobson said Obama has faced serious obstacles.
"Is it the end of the road? No. This has been a difficult thing for the president. He indicated on day one ... that he was going to try to close Guantanamo. He has met a lot of resistance in Congress and elsewhere. But this was a step in the right direction and we're pleased the Canadians did it," said Jacobson.
"We explained to the Canadians our desire. But we don't pressure, that's not how it works."
On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird simply answered "yes" when asked by CTV's Question Period if the U.S. had exerted diplomatic pressure on Canada to accept Khadr.
Baird added that since Khadr is a Canadian citizen and the Americans plan to close Guantanamo Bay, Canada did not have much of a choice but to let the prisoner return.
Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 to five charges, including murder in violation of the law of war for the death of an American special forces soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002. Khadr was 15 years old at the time of the offences.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Khadr was eligible to return to Canada a year ago to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence for war crimes, but his transfer was delayed amid sniping between Canada and the U.S.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had insisted he needed to satisfy himself that Khadr would pose no threat to public safety.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Toews said Khadr's weekend repatriation came after a regulatory process was followed.
"The transfer of Omar Khadr occurred following a process initiated by the American government and conducted in accordance with Canadian law. It did not include consideration of foreign relations," he said.
Meanwhile, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said the rhetoric used by the Conservatives to portray Khadr to Canadians needed to change.
"I think the attitude of the Conservatives is completely out of keeping with what needs to happen and where we need to be as a country with respect to Mr. Khadr," Rae said.
"But we’ve come to expect nothing else, nothing less, nothing better from the Conservatives or from Mr. Toews...they’re going to continue to use what I call simple cartoon rhetoric and cartoon language in describing a real person who now has to be rehabilitated into Canada."
The U.S. had little to say about Khadr's transfer prior to Jacobson's comments Monday night.
"We're glad that it's behind us. We appreciate the actions of Canada," Jacobson said.
Khadr was taken to Millhaven Institution west of Kingston, Ont., upon his return for a period of assessment — a normal procedure for new inmates — before authorities decide where he will serve out the remaining six years of his sentence.
He will be eligible for parole within about six months.
Related on HuffPost:
5 Questions About The Future Of Omar Khadr
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/02/omar-khadr-future_n_1931537.html?1349187537">5 Questions About The Future Of Omar Khadr from CBC</a>
Where will Khadr spend the rest of his sentence?
That’s still unknown. Khadr is in custody under a 23-hour-a day lockdown at Millhaven, where he gets an hour a day of exercise in the courtyard. He is in the assessment unit where correctional officials are determining the appropriate level of security required for him and where he will be placed for the long term. That process could take weeks. His lawyers have argued that while in Guantanamo Bay, Khadr was a model prisoner and does not need to be placed in maximum security, meaning he could be transferred to another facility. (Although, his lawyer Brydie Bethell told the Globe and Mail, it may make sense to be in maximum security for his own safety.) The Toronto Star reported it is also possible that Khadr could be transferred to the Special Handling Unit. Also known as SHU, located in Sainte-anne-des-Plaines, Que., the maximum security facility holds others who have been convicted of terrorism offences. <em>In this file handout image taken from a 2003 U.S. Department of Defense surveillance video and provided Tuesday, July 15, 2008 by Omar Khadr's defense lawyers, Khadr is shown in an interrogation room at the Guatanamo U.S. Naval Base prison while being questioned by members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. A decade after Khadr was pulled near death from the rubble of a bombed-out compound in Afghanistan, the Canadian citizen set foot on Canadian soil early Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, after an American military flight from the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay. Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo Bay last October under terms of a plea deal. Canada's conservative government took almost a year to approve the transfer. </em>
Will Khadr undergo any rehabilitation programs while in custody?
Constitutional and human rights lawyer Paul Champ told CBC News that because Khadr is considered a child soldier, Canada would have an obligation to provide rehabilitation and counselling to him under international law. Like all federal inmates entering the Correctional Service of Canada, Khadr will be provided with a correctional plan. In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for CSC said the department provides a number programs to "help offenders to address the factors that led to their offences and to assist in their safe reintegration into our communities." CSC also states it offers inmates "meaningful rehabilitation programs" and employment activities. But it's unclear whether the CSC has any specific deradicalization program and whether Khadr would partake.
When will Khadr be eligible for parole?
Khadr's eight-year sentence started on Oct. 31, 2010, meaning he has six years left. Khadr's previous lawyers believed their client should be released immediately upon his return to Canada because his rights were violated during his time in Guantanamo Bay. So far, his current lawyers have said they have not made any decisions yet regarding the application for parole but have said Khadr could be eligible as early as the spring or summer of 2013. As Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said, ultimately it will be up to the National Parole Board to decide whether Khadr should be released and under what conditions. The NPB's decision will be based on a number of factors including his risk to society and likelihood of reoffending. If his application is rejected, he would be able to reapply every year. It's possible that parole conditions could include parts of a 'deradicalization' plan mapped out by his then lawyers in 2008, based on DDR programs: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. That plan would have included treatment for Khadr in a secure facility at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where he would be psychologically assessed for risk of terrorist activity. They had also proposed Khadr live with his maternal grandparents, who were said to have not been associated with radical ideologies, in a Toronto suburb for two to three years. The final stage of that plan would see Khadr on a supervised release, lasting from one to three years, and under strict conditions such as forcing him to refrain from drug use, petty crime or interacting with specific individuals. He would also be involved in a religious deradicalization program with help from a prominent Islamic figure in the community.
What will Khadr do once released?
Khadr’s sentence finishes Oct. 30, 2018, meaning at that point he will be released into the public without conditions, having served his time. Khadr’s lawyers have said that Khadr wants to pursue education and become a health-care practitioner. Arlette Zinck, an English professor at Edmonton's King’s University College, has spent the past two years visiting and tutoring Khadr at Guantanamo Bay. In an email to CBC News, King's vice-president of institutional advancement Dan VanKeeken wrote, "Once his prison term is over, if he decided to apply to King's we would treat him as any other applicant." In 2010, during his sentencing, Khadr said he would “be honoured” to attend the university and said he hoped someday to go into medicine. But some have suggested that Khadr could be kept under close watch by Canada's security agency. <em>This undated photo shows Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian, taken before he was imprisoned in 2002 at the age of 15. A decade after Khadr was pulled near death from the rubble of a bombed-out compound in Afghanistan, the Canadian citizen set foot on Canadian soil early Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, after an American military flight from the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay. Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo Bay last October under terms of a plea deal. Canada's conservative government took almost a year to approve the transfer. </em>
Are there any conditions placed on Khadr upon his release?
As part of his plea bargain, Khadr agreed to certain conditions. He said he would never enter the United States or take legal action against the U.S. in regards to his capture and detention. Khadr also agreed he would not make money from his experiences and that he would hand over to the Canadian government any profits or proceeds he may receive in connection with the "publication or dissemination of information" relating to his crimes. Khadr also said he would not assign the "rights to my story" that would provide financial benefit to him, his associates or family members.
Total number of detainees that have been detained at the Guantanamo facility since the September 11, 2011 attacks. (Human Rights Watch)
Of the 779 detainees, roughly 600 were released without charges, many after being detained for years. (Human Rights Watch)
The number of detainees that remain at Guantanamo. (Human Rights Watch)
The number of detainees that have been approved for transfer to home or third countries but still remain at Guantanamo, some after nearly 10 years of detention. (Human Rights Watch)
Number of children under age 18 who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo. (Human Rights Watch)
Number of Guantanamo detainees who died while in custody, six by suspected suicide. (Human Rights Watch)
Number of those convicted in the military commissions after trial or plea bargain. (Human Rights Watch)
Of the 171 detainees that remain at Guantanamo only one, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, faces any formal charges. (Human Rights Watch)