OTTAWA: Canada’s government on Wednesday received a formal request from the last Westerner held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be transferred to a Canadian jail.
A US military tribunal sentenced Omar Khadr to 40 years in prison in October 2010 after he pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed a US sergeant in Afghanistan in 2002. He was only 15 at the time.
But a plea deal meant his actual sentence was only eight years — including a provision that he could seek a transfer to Canada after an initial year at Guantanamo.
“The government of Canada has just received a completed application for the transfer of prisoner Omar Ahmed Khadr,” a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said.
“A decision will be made on this file in accordance with Canadian law.”
Toronto-born Khadr, the youngest detainee ever held at the US naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, filed a formal transfer request with US authorities in November.
Both Ottawa and Washington gave tacit approval as part of his plea deal, but a final nod was delayed as Ottawa and Washington reportedly bickered over details.
Canadian legal scholars suggested Ottawa might seek assurances from Khadr that he will not launch any further legal challenges in a bid to seek earlier release before agreeing to his transfer to a Canadian prison.
Canadian inmates typically can also ask for early parole after serving a part of their sentence.
Toews has said his main concern in the case “is ensuring that public safety is maintained.”
A Canadian government source told AFP that Ottawa was considering the transfer only as a “diplomatic favor” to Washington.
“The US needs to get rid of this guy for their own reasons and they are bending over backwards to make that happen,” the source said, adding that Washington offered to pay to fly him here and “bend a number of their own rules to make that happen.”
Ottawa could impose conditions on Khadr’s eventual release if he serves out the remainder of his sentence in Canada.
Otherwise, “in eight years he would be able to walk onto Canadian streets a free man, able to continue to associate with radicals and terrorists,” the source said, outlining the stakes.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States hoped that Khadr would be able to move to Canada to advance President Barack Obama’s elusive goal of closing the Guantanamo military camp.
“We’re working quickly and deliberately to close this process out,” Toner told reporters.
Toner declined to set a timeline for the transfer but said: “We’re working to close (the prison at) Guantanamo Bay. And as part of that process, we’re trying to find homes, if you will, for the remaining prisoners.”
Born in Toronto in 1986 to a family of militants, Khadr was a beardless teenager when he was captured after being severely wounded in Afghanistan. Today, at 25, he is a tall man with a heavy beard and a scarred face.
The Khadr family went to Pakistan when Omar was a child to help with reconstruction along the Pakistan-Afghan border following the withdrawal of Russian troops, according to an online family biography.
After 1996, the family lived in a compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where young Khadr allegedly met Osama bin Laden.