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Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner In Canada Wants To Be Released On Bail

Canadian-born Omar Khadr is seen in a courtroom sketch during a 2010 hearing at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was moved to a Canadian prison in 2012.
Janet Hamlin
Canadian-born Omar Khadr is seen in a courtroom sketch during a 2010 hearing at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was moved to a Canadian prison in 2012.

Omar Khadr was just 15 years old when he was taken to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002 — the youngest person ever to be incarcerated at the controversial camp. After a decade there, he was transferred to a prison in western Canada as part of a plea deal.

The Toronto-born Khadr is now at the center of a battle between defense lawyers who want him freed on bail and Canada's government, which has launched an 11th-hour appeal to make sure he stays put.

Ottawa says freeing Khadr, who is now 28, could jeopardize relations between Canada and the U.S., which cut a deal that got him back home.

A Canadian judge said Tuesday that she needs more time to decide whether Khadr should be released while he appeals his conviction for war crimes. Her decision is expected Thursday.

This is just the latest legal wrangling for Khadr. It started in 2002 when he was captured by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. He was initially held at Bagram Air Field, near Kabul, where one of his interrogators later testified that he had been threatened with rape, according to The Guardian.

Khadr was sent to Guantanamo Bay shortly afterward.

The U.S. accusations against Khadr included throwing a grenade during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. Khadr was also wounded in the attack and was partially blinded.

In 2010, Khadr was convicted by a U.S. military commission of five war crimes.

The Obama administration, keen to clear prisoners out of Guantanamo, was eager to have Khadr's case wrapped up, and offered him an eight-year sentence in 2010, and the opportunity to return to Canada as part of a plea deal, according to the Toronto Star. Khadr accepted.

Since then, he has said he agreed to the plea deal only to get out of Guantanamo and back to Canada, according to The Associated Press. Khadr appealed his conviction by the U.S. military court. On April 24, a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench granted him bail.

The Canadian government appealed that decision, arguing that allowing Khadr out would present an unprecedented risk to the public. Ottawa maintains that the judge had no authority to hear Khadr's bail application under the treaty that allowed his return to Canada, and that it could jeopardize future repatriations of other Canadian prisoners from the U.S.

Canada's Public Safety Minister, Steven Blaney, has repeatedly called Khadr an unrepentant terrorist, according to the Edmonton Journal.

"We feel that Mr. Khadr, until a final decision is rendered by the court, should stay behind bars," Blaney said in Ottawa.

One of Khadr's lawyers, Dennis Edney, says Ottawa's efforts to keep his client in prison is malicious, according to The Guardian.

"This is a government that doesn't believe in the rule of law," he said.

Khadr's case has been divisive in Canada. U.S. military prosecutors said his parents were ardent supporters of militant Islam and that at one point the family shared a compound with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

But there was concern among many Canadians that a 15-year-old was held and interrogated at Guantanamo Bay. Khadr has already spent two years more in custody than he would have had he been convicted in Canada, according to the Toronto Star.

Khadr is eligible for parole in 2016.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.