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Harper has only days to make choice on Khadr

Omar Khadr is shown in an interrogation room at the U.S. Naval base in Guatanamo Bay in an image taken from a 2003 surveillance video.

The Canadian Press

As defence lawyers and prosecutors wrangle over a possible plea agreement for accused war criminal Omar Khadr, no Canadian representation is at the table, sources report.

That doesn't mean that negotiations are not under way at higher levels over whether Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, would be allowed to serve part of his sentence in a Canadian prison. Neither U.S. nor Canadian officials were willing to comment on the matter on Friday.

But an agreement is expected before Mr. Khadr's next appearance at a military tribunal on Oct. 25, which would leave Prime Minister Stephen Harper with only days to decide whether he is willing to involve his government in any proposed solution to a problem that has bedeviled politicians on both side of the border.

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Publicly, Mr. Harper had little to say about Mr. Khadr on Friday.

"It is up to the United States government to deal with that particular situation," he told reporters. "Until that legal issue is resolved, I won't be commenting on the case further."

The Conservative government has thus far been loath to raise a hand to assist the young Canadian, who was charged with killing a U.S. soldier during a fire fight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15.

The Supreme Court of Canada has found that the government violated Mr. Khadr's constitutional rights by taking part in illegal interrogation methods, and the Federal Court of Appeal has criticized the Conservatives for ignoring the Supreme Court. Even so, the Prime Minister insists this is a U.S. case in which Canada does not want to get involved.

But if the charges are resolved through a guilty plea and a sentence, then the question pivots to where Mr. Khadr serves that sentence.

The Conservatives have acquired a reputation as reluctant to accept Canadian convicts seeking to be repatriated to Canadian prisons. Public Safety ministers have repeatedly rejected applications approved by Corrections Canada officials. Legislation before Parliament would give the Public Safety Minister even more discretion to refuse requests from prisoners who want to serve their time at home.

So repatriating Mr. Khadr would fly in the face both of the government's policy toward Canadians incarcerated abroad and toward Mr. Khadr himself.

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Still, Mr. Harper may have no choice but to bring Mr. Khadr home. The Obama administration is keen to close the Guantanamo facility and to rid the United States of Mr. Khadr, whom critics - and they are many - say was a child soldier deserving of compassion rather than the torture allegedly meted out to him.

To prevent a trial before a military tribunal of an accused who has generated international sympathy, the Obama administration appears ready to strike a deal.

Jonathan Alter, a writer for Newsweek and author of The Promise, a book on Barack Obama, reports that the President has particularly good relations with Mr. Harper. The two policy geeks get on, and if Mr. Obama asks Mr. Harper to take Mr. Khadr back, the Prime Minister would almost certainly agree.

But unless the Obama administration positively pleads, Mr. Harper's inclination would be to let Mr. Khadr serve his entire sentence in the United States.

If Mr. Khadr is repatriated, one sticking point will be how long he serves before he is eligible for parole. In the United States, prisoners routinely serve almost their entire term before being paroled, whereas in Canada, some form of release can occur after as little as 20 per cent of the sentence.

This is only one issue that negotiators will be wrangling over. Mr. Khadr's fate was always more likely to be decided by politicians than by a judge.

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