POLITICS

Bail Decision For Omar Khadr Now In Hands Of Judge

03/25/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 05/24/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - Lawyers for former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr say he's optimistic, but not getting his hopes up, about getting out on bail.

Following a two-day hearing, an Edmonton judge said she needs time to make a decision on the "high priority" case.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross must first decide if she has the authority to grant bail to a Canadian appealing a conviction by a foreign court. If she finds she does — and if she agrees that Khadr should be released — lawyers are to return to court to argue his bail conditions.

Ross gave no indication as to how long she will take to make a ruling.

Nathan Whitling, one of Khadr's lawyers, told reporters outside court that the judge has a lot to think about.

"This is the first case, not only in Canada, but anywhere in the world where an internationally transferred prisoner has sought bail pending appeal after the transfer."

Most offenders exhaust their appeals before they are moved, he said.

Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to five war-crimes charges, including murder, for killing an American soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15.

After spending nearly a decade in Guantanamo Bay, he was sentenced by a U.S. military commission to an additional eight years and transferred to Canada to complete his sentence.

He later admitted he pleaded guilty only to get out of Guantanamo and he appealed the conviction to a U.S. military court.

Khadr's lawyers argued at his bail hearing that the appeal has merit, but is taking too long and the 28-year-old could complete his sentence before it is decided. They say he has been a model prisoner and poses no threat to anyone.

If released on bail, Khadr plans to live in Edmonton with his long-time lawyer, Dennis Edney, and a university has agreed to let him enrol as a student.

Both Edney and Whitling agree Khadr is cautiously optimistic about whether the judge will release him.

"He's been through so many court proceedings now that he knows better than to get his hopes up," Whitling said. "But he certainly feels that he got a fair hearing, a lot fairer hearing than he ever got in Guantanamo."

A lawyer for the Canadian government argued that giving Khadr bail would undermine public confidence in the justice system, subvert international law and damage Canada's relationship with the U.S.

Bruce Hughson told court that it might also affect the willingness of other countries to transfer offenders to Canada.

He said if Khadr wants out, he should apply for parole instead.

Khadr has done just that and has a parole hearing scheduled for June.

But his lawyers say they aren't confident the parole board will free him. Khadr is eligible for statutory release, after serving two-thirds of his sentence, in October 2016. His sentence expires in 2018.

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