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Canadian Court Delays Decision on Release of Omar Khadr, Once the Youngest Prisoner At Guantanamo

The Canadian government made last-ditch appeal to keep Omar Khadr, who is convicted of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan, in jail on Tuesday.

by Alex MacPherson and Hilary Beaumont
May 5 2015, 10:45am

Photo by Amanda McRoberts/The Canadian Press

Omar Khadr will spend at least two more nights in jail after a judge postponed making a decision on the Canadian government's bid to block the former Guantanamo prisoner's release on Tuesday.

Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby heard arguments from lawyers for both the government of Canada and Khadr before announcing to an Edmonton courtroom that she needs time to consider the matter and will rule Thursday morning.

The 28-year-old Canadian man, who was at one point the youngest prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, was granted bail last month as he appeals an American military conviction for killing a US soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15. He says his confession was obtained through torture.

The Canadian government went to court Tuesday in a last ditch attempt to block his release. Federal government lawyer Bruce Hughson argued that the Toronto-born man's bail, which wasn't part of the original deal, would have "significant and far reaching" consequences because it could be viewed as a betrayal of international treaty agreements.

"Stopping his reintegration process poses undue risk," Hughson said. "His radical parents, his violent experiences, his long incarceration factor into his reintegration." Khadr, who appeared expressionless in the courtroom on Tuesday, has applied for parole in June.

Outside the courthouse, Khadr's long-time lawyer called the government's argument on his reintegration "smoke and mirrors."

"I supplied them with every single document that he was not dangerous, and what does the government do? They assign him a maximum security designation," Dennis Edney told reporters outside the courthouse.

"And now they want to drag it out even more," he continued. "Why? Just because they can't stand seeing that young Muslim boy out and let the public see ...what a real person he is. He is not that fiction, that paranoia, that [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper needs to create. He is an awful kind young man."

The US State Department told VICE News on Tuesday that the original decision to grant him bail wouldn't hurt Canadian-American relations.

"This is an internal Canadian proceeding," US State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Jeff Rathke said in a press briefing Tuesday. "We'll leave it to Canadian authorities and the Canadian judicial system to make their decision."

Related: Related:Read more from Primary Sources, the VICE News FOIA blog

If he is ultimately released, Khadr will have to abide by a number of conditions that were set on Tuesday, including that he live with his lawyer, meet a curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and wear a tracking bracelet. Any communication with family must be in English, with no face-to-face contact, and supervised at all times. He's allowed to use the internet under supervision. His bail is set at $5,000.

In granting his bail last month, Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross said Khadr doesn't pose much risk to the public, and has a track record as a model prisoner. Khadr is currently being held in a minimum-security facility in central Alberta.

Debate has raged north and south of the Canada-US border on whether or not Khadr was a child soldier or a terrorist when he fought with al Qaeda and Taliban militants in 2002. After his lawyer made an impassioned plea on his behalf on the steps of the courthouse Tuesday, a man walked by and yelled, "That fucker? He should just be executed."

Khadr's father Ahmed Said Khadr had well known ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. On the instruction of his father, in 1996 Omar Khadr began attending Taliban-affiliated training camps. In 2002, 15-year-old Khadr was arrested by American soldiers after a grenade lobbed during a firefight with US soldiers in Afghanistan killed a Special Forces medic, Christopher Speer.

Related: Related: Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner, Convicted of Killing US Soldier, Granted Bail in Canada

Khadr maintained his innocence for eight years while he was detained in Guantanamo until, in October 2010, he agreed to a plea deal that released him from the American detention center but sentenced him to eight more years in prison.

As part of the deal, he confessed to murder and attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, and two counts of providing material support for terrorism.

When he accepted the plea deal, he apologized to the dead soldier's wife, Tabitha Speer, saying, "I'm really sorry for the pain I caused to your family."

"My husband was a good man. You will forever be a murderer in my eyes," Speer told Khadr.

But the plea deal wasn't without controversy. In a 2013 affidavit about the agreement, Khadr said he was "left with a hopeless choice," and would have endured "continued abuse and torture" in Guantanamo without the plea, raising questions about the validity of the deal.

The Free Omar campaign, which began in 2011 to advocate for his release, said Monday the government's "'knee jerk' appeal of every court decision has prolonged his 12-year struggle for justice."

In 2012, when authorities moved Khadr from the US to Canada, then Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Khadr wasn't a child soldier but a terrorist. "The evidence is very clear," Toews told CTV in 2012. "He was a convicted murderer, he's a terrorist and that's the basis I brought him back [to Canada] on."

Following the hearing, Edney said he advised his client to stay hopeful.

"I told Omar, be cautious, but don't be over cautious. You must always have hope," Edney said after the judge's decision.

"I'd like to grab him," he said of Khadr. "Open the door, take him home."

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont