Omar Khadr formally requests transfer home from Guantanamo

Toronto — The Globe and Mail

Omar Khadr is seen through the fence at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay's on Oct. 23, 2010. (Colin Perkel/Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

The federal government has received a formal request for the transfer of convicted war criminal Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay to Canada.

An aide to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews confirmed Ottawa is now considering the request.

“The government of Canada has just received a completed application for the transfer of prisoner Omar Ahmed Khadr,” spokeswoman Julie Carmichael said Wednesday.

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“A decision will be made on this file in accordance with Canadian law.”

Mr. Khadr, 25, was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo Bay last October under terms of a deal reached a year earlier in which he pleaded guilty to five war crimes committed in Afghanistan as a 15-year-old.

In exchange, he received an eight-year sentence from a much-maligned military commission – but only one year had to be served at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, where he had been incarcerated since the fall of 2002.

However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been reluctant to accept Mr. Khadr, who it considers to be a dangerous terrorist, and diplomatic wrangling over his transfer has persisted.

According to a source familiar with the application, the Americans have been pressing Canada to accept the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr. Sources have said the delay has complicated commission proceedings against other Guantanamo inmates because it has made them reluctant to strike their own plea deals.

“The United States basically asked Canada for a diplomatic favour and Canada previously agreed to look at a request of this nature favourably,” one source said.

“The U.S. needs to get rid of this guy for their own reasons.”

According to the source, the Americans are “bending over backwards” to ensure Mr. Khadr's exit from Guantanamo Bay and will have to “bend their way around a number of their own rules” to make that happen.

At the same time, the source suggested, Mr. Toews has little choice but to accept Mr. Khadr's return, which would happen at U.S. expense.

Should Mr. Khadr remain in Guantanamo for his full sentence, he would be able to return to Canada and walk the streets without any restrictions, the source said.

As it now stands, Mr. Khadr would be eligible for parole under Canadian rules when he does get back, which sources have told The Canadian Press could be by the end of next month.

Mr. Khadr's Canadian defence lawyer John Norris said he was “pleased” with the steps taken.

“We look forward to a prompt decision from the minister,” Mr. Norris said. “We trust that he will be dealing with it expeditiously.”

The lawyer said he had no information on where Mr. Khadr would be placed on his return.

Mr. Khadr was badly wounded after a four-hour firefight when he was captured in the rubble of a compound in Afghanistan in July 2002. He pleaded guilty in October 2010 to throwing a grenade that killed an American special forces soldier and blinded another.