Convicted war criminal Omar Khadr ‘very, very happy to be home’ in Canada
By Colin Perkel with files from Meghan Hurley, The Canadian Press and The Ottawa Citizen September 29, 2012
Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay, circa 2009.
Photograph by: Handout
TORONTO — A decade after 15-year-old Omar 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 following an American military flight from the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay.
Khadr was immediately whisked off to a maximum-security facility in eastern Ontario following the five-hour flight to CFB Trenton, Ont.
“He’s finding it hard to believe that this has finally happened,” John Norris, one of Khadr’s lawyers, told The Canadian Press just after speaking to his client by phone.
“His spirits are good. He is very, very happy to be home.”
Under a plea agreement, the Toronto-born Khadr was eligible to return to Canada a year ago to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence for war crimes handed down by a much maligned military commission in October 2010.
But his politically-wrought transfer was delayed amid sniping between Canada and the U.S., while Public Safety Minister Vic Toews insisted he needed to satisfy himself that Khadr, who turned 26 earlier this month, would pose no threat to public safety.
“Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the al-Qaida terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,” Toews said Saturday, repeating a standard government line.
“(But) I am satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada can administer Omar Khadr’s sentence in a manner which recognizes the serious nature of the crimes that he has committed, and ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”
In his three-page decision Friday allowing the transfer, Toews identified five areas of concern, including that Khadr has been away from Canadian society for years and will require “substantial management” to re-integrate.
Toews also said Khadr idealizes his late father — a purported high-ranking al-Qaida financier — while his mother and older sister “have openly applauded his crimes and terrorist activities,” an apparent reference to media comments they made eight years ago.
Still, Toews said it is up to the parole board to determine how many of the six years remaining on his eight-year sentence Khadr will have to serve behind bars.
The inmate is eligible for early release within months and the minister said he was counting on the board to put “robust conditions” in place if it does allow him out.
Norris, who said the transfer was “finally a time that justice had triumphed over politics,” expressed surprise at Toews’ position.
“We’re at a loss to understand why the government continues to demonize Omar and to stoke public opinion against him,” said Norris.
“We know him to be a kind, intelligent, thoughtful young man who has tremendous potential and we know that he will live up to that.”
Khadr was taken upon his arrival in Canada to Millhaven Institution just west of Kingston, Ont., for assessment pending permanent placement.
News their relative was back in Canada caught Khadr’s family in Toronto off guard.
“Do we know where he is so we can maybe go see him?” one close relative asked a reporter.
In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes committed as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.
The most serious offence was murder in violation of the rules of war — a crime not recognized outside of the military commissions — for the death of Sgt. Christopher Speer. The U.S. special forces soldier was killed by a grenade Khadr admitted throwing following a massive bombardment of the compound he was at in July 2002.
Khadr, near death and almost blind, was found in the rubble and taken to Bagram prison in Afghanistan. He was transferred a few months later to Guantanamo Bay.
In exchange for his guilty plea, the 40-year sentence handed him by a military-commission jury was capped at a further eight years, with only one more to be served in Guantanamo, but he remained there until Saturday.
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