The Canadian who confessed to killing an American soldier during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan was granted bail on Friday, meaning he will soon be a free man for the first time in 13 years, as he appeals a conviction for war crimes that he says authorities used torture to obtain.
A provincial court judge ruled that 28-year-old Omar Khadr, who is serving an American military sentence in Alberta, Canada, should be released from his medium-security prison early next month, pending the outcome of his appeal.
The Canadian government says it will appeal the bail order.
His freedom isn't unconditional, however. The court will hear from Khadr and government lawyers as to what release conditions should be applied to the Toronto-born man at a hearing on May 5.
Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence for killing American Sergeant Christopher Speer — a combat medic who served with elite Delta Force commandos — in a grenade attack in eastern Afghanistan when he was 15. The grenade that killed Speer was lobbed during a firefight outside a home in Khost. A badly-wounded Khadr was captured nearby by the US military and transported to its Guantanamo base, where he was once its youngest prisoner.
Khadr's father, Ahmed, was killed in Pakistan a year after his son's arrest. He was alleged to be a major financier of al Qaeda and was arrested in connection with a 1995 bombing against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. He had been under surveillance by both American and Canadian governments for his links to terrorist organizations before his death.
The younger Khadr, who was raised in Pakistan, confessed during a military tribunal in 2010 to five counts of war crimes in connection with the killing, netting him a 40-year sentence. He is only required to serve eight years in prison, however, because of the years he spent in detention in Guantanamo without due process — three years without charge, and a further five without trial.
Khadr says he faced torture and enhanced interrogation techniques while incarcerated at the base. Some of his interrogations were conducted by spies from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The agents questioned him while he was still underage without access to a lawyer, and shared intelligence they gained with American prosecutors, which would later earn them reprimand from Canadian courts.
Khadr and his legal team are now suing the Canadian government for tens of millions of dollars in damages, alleging Ottawa has been complicit in his treatment.
The widow of Sergeant Speer has also filed a $50-million action against Khadr for his involvement in the death of her husband.
Khadr has always maintained his innocence in the death of Speer and has described himself as a child soldier.
"From the very beginning, to this day, I have never been accorded the protection I deserve as a child soldier," Khadr wrote in a 2014 op-ed. "I have been through so many other human rights violations. I was held for years without being charged. I have been tortured and ill-treated. I have suffered through harsh prison conditions. And I went through an unfair trial process that sometimes felt like it would never end."
Khadr's lawyer says that desperation led to his confession. "Under those conditions, he was forced to admit throwing the grenade that killed a soldier," lawyer Dennis Edney told an Alberta courtroom.
The allegedly illegally-obtained confession is the basis of Khadr's appeal.
Although Khadr should have been returned to a civilian prison in Canada following his conviction, Ottawa fought his return. It took two years of legal wrangling — amid American efforts to empty the Cuban military prison — before the federal government agreed to repatriate Khadr, and only after the Canadian judiciary admonished their handling of the entire situation.
"Canada actively participated in a process contrary to Canada's international human rights obligations and contributed to Mr. Khadr's ongoing detention so as to deprive him of his right to liberty and security," the Supreme Court of Canada wrote in a 2010 decision.
But, Canada has maintained Khadr's guilt in Speer's death, and in other crimes that he has never been formally accused of.
After being returned to Canada, Khadr filed to be housed in a youth prison — a fight his lawyers won. The Conservative government immediately appealed. He remains in an adult prison pending the outcome of the appeal.
The government was quick to react on Friday, as well.
"We are disappointed and will appeal this decision," Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in a statement. "Our Government will continue to work to combat the international jihadi movement, which has declared war on Canada and her allies."
The rest of Blaney's statement reiterated the same points the government has hit on over recent years: Khadr confessed to killing Sergeant Speer and the Canadian government will not accept anything less than his detention in a federal prison. The news release also included a shot at Canada's opposition parties, accusing them of wanting "special compensation for this convicted terrorist," referring to consideration of financial compensation for Khadr's time in prison.