Convicted Canadian war criminal Omar Khadr will be seeking clemency in hopes of an early release from his prison cell in Guantanamo Bay and a quicker return to Canada, The Canadian Press has learned.
An application which could seek remedies ranging from an outright acquittal to a commuting of his eight-year sentence is set to go before the head of the military commissions within a few weeks.
Speaking from Memphis, Tenn., Mr. Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer Lt. Col. Jon Jackson confirmed that Mr. Khadr's defence team was finalizing the application to the convening authority.
“We haven't made any final decision on what we're going to request,” Lt. Jackson said Wednesday.
“We're (also) currently in the process of determining what specific areas of law we're going to address.”
The clemency application is expected to be submitted in about two weeks, and a decision could come shortly after.
In October, the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr, 24, pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including murder in violation of the rules of war, stemming from the death of an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002.
A military commission jury sentenced Mr. Khadr to 40 years, but the presiding judge ordered him under terms of a plea deal to serve eight more years, including only one further year in Guantanamo Bay.
Under the U.S. military justice system on which the commissions are based, the convening authority — in the person of Adm. Bruce MacDonald — has presidential-like powers in terms of acting in Khadr's favour.
Even though Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty, Adm. MacDonald could go as far as to completely set aside the conviction on any or all of the five war crimes.
Critics of the military commissions have long held that the charge of murder in violation of the rule of war — the most serious conviction against Mr. Khadr — has no basis under international law.
They have also been fiercely critical of prosecuting Mr. Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time of his crimes and has been held at Guantanamo Bay since October 2002.
A shorter sentence would impact Mr. Khadr's ability to seek parole once he returns to Canada to serve out the remainder of his sentence.
“It's a big deal,” Lt. Jackson said.
Adm. MacDonald's decision would be final and not subject to any further appeal.
In the interim, Mr. Khadr remains confined to his maximum-security cell for about 18 hours a day, but is allowed recreation time with two other convicts.
He spends most of his time studying grammar, history, astronomy and other high school subjects, something the lawyer said was encouraging in terms of Mr. Khadr's future prospects.
“He is doing remarkably well,” Lt. Jackson said. “He's just a good kid.”
Mr. Khadr's lawyers said their client entered into the plea deal because it was his best hope of getting out of Guantanamo Bay.
“In exchange for repatriation, Omar was required to sign an admission of facts which was stunning in its false portrayal of him,” Dennis Edney, one of Khadr's Canadian lawyers, said at the time.
Mr. Khadr's defence maintains the presiding judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, made errors during the trial and testimony from a key prosecution expert was flawed.
Lt. Jackson said he wanted to put about a half a dozen issues before the convening authority to consider in the clemency application but declined to discuss specifics.