Omar Khadr was shot and captured in Afghanistan several years ago when he was only 15 years old. The previous Liberal government barely fought for his rights as a Canadian and apart from the Department of Foreign Affairs requesting the U.S. government not to transfer the 15-year-old prisoner to Guantánamo Bay, the Liberals did nothing to help Khadr once he reached the notorious prison in Cuba.
Today Omar Khadr is 29 years old amid claims he spent a decade enduring repeated bouts of torture. In 2010, after eight years in custody, he pleaded guilty at a US military commission to five “war crimes,” including the battlefield murder of US Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. The plea deal allowed Khadr an eight-year sentence and the potential to serve the bulk of his time in a Canadian prison system.
In September 2012 Khadr was sent back to Canada where he has since clarified that his confession was only given to receive a plea bargain so he could escape Guantánamo. Today, Khadr is appealing his convictions in the U.S. arguing that the offences did not exist on the day of the battle—and that even if he did throw that grenade, it was a legitimate act of war, not a war crime.
Even though the Americans assured Canadian officials that he was being treated fairly and humanely, Khadr’s lawyers claim that he was so badly abused, beginning as a teenager, that the U.S. forfeited the right to prosecute him.
In the years since Omar Khadr’s capture, many veteran Liberals have expressed regret over the handling of the file. Bill Graham, foreign affairs minister at the time, now concedes that he should have done more to push for the teen’s release while former Prime Minister Paul Martin, admits, “We should have repatriated him.”
The Liberal government recently announced that Khadr would remain a free man in Edmonton while he appeals his U.S. war crimes convictions at a special court in Virginia, a process that could take many more years.
According to a brief statement released by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, “The Government of Canada respects the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta which determined that Mr. Khadr be released on bail in Canada pending his US appeal of his US convictions and sentence. Withdrawing this appeal is an important step towards fulfilling the Government’s commitment to review its litigation strategy.”
Even though the Trudeau government should be credited for dropping the Harper-era bail appeal, it did not mention that Khadr was horrifically abused at the hands of the U.S. government, and has suffered more than enough. And it did not say that the government should have lobbied harder on his behalf back in 2002 or come close to labeling him a victim.
Perhaps the reason for its muted stand is because Khadr is still suing the Canadian government for $20-million in damages. Since being filed in 2004, the lawsuit now seems unbeatable. Twice already, the country’s highest court has scolded Ottawa for violating Khadr’s constitutional rights—both times while the Liberals were in power.
When he was apprehended, less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, Khadr was held at a U.S. military hospital in Bagram before being transferred to Guantánamo. At the time his father, Ahmed Said, was a wanted by US authorities because of his connection to al-Qaeda (Ahmed was a reputed al-Qaeda financier with ties to Osama bin Laden). And although Washington considered Ahmed’s teenage son an “enemy combatant” out of reach of consular access, it did permit “intelligence” visits.
The $20-million lawsuit is proceeding while Khadr still lives at the Edmonton home of one of his longtime lawyers, Dennis Edney, while studying to become an emergency medical technician.
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