POLITICS

US judge awards $134M in lawsuit against Omar Khadr

07/02/2015 04:42 EDT | Updated 07/02/2016 05:59 EDT
SALT LAKE CITY - A U.S. judge has granted $134.2 million in damages to the widow of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan and another soldier partially blinded by a hand grenade in their lawsuit against former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr.

In their lawsuit, Tabitha Speer and Layne Morris, alleged a teenage Khadr was responsible for the death of Sgt. Christopher Speer and Morris's injuries in Afghanistan in July 2002.

Their case rested largely on Khadr's guilty plea to five war crimes before a widely maligned U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay in October 2010.

Khadr, now 28, who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay and was transferred to Canada in 2012, has since said he only pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo and is seeking to have his conviction overturned.

The plaintiffs acknowledged Thursday that there is little chance they will collect any of the money from him.

"It's really more of a statement case, I think, than a desire to collect this," lawyer Laura Tanner, who represents Speer and Morris.

While Khadr is essentially penniless, having spent almost 13 years behind bars before finally being released on bail, he is in the process of suing the Canadian government for $20 million for alleged violations of his civil rights.

A Utah judge handed down the default judgment on June 8 after the suit got no answer from Khadr.

"Omar Khadr has been in jail so he can't defend himself," said his attorney Dennis Edney.

Still, the plaintiffs' lawyers are seeking a Canadian law firm to help collect the money.

A Calgary lawyer who was consulted but not retained by the plaintiffs' legal team said an application must be brought before Canadian courts before the ruling can be enforced.

Gerald Chipeur said Canadian courts generally recognize American judgments but there's always a possibility the ruling could be rejected.

The big question, he said, is whether Khadr was given proper notice of the legal action against him.

The case against Toronto-born Khadr drew criticism from human rights groups because he was captured as a teenager and seriously wounded during a four-hour battle at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan.

His lawyers contended he was groomed to be a child soldier, forced into fighting the U.S. by a radical father who was accused of being a senior al-Qaida financier. Military prosecutors in the case, meanwhile, portrayed Khadr as a dangerous terrorist.

After his May release from prison in Alberta on bail, Khadr apologized to the families of the victims. He said he rejects violent jihad and wants a fresh start to finish his education and work in health care.

— with files from The Canadian Press