The Harper government has thrown up a new roadblock to returning convicted al-Qaeda terrorist and murderer Omar Khadr to Canada.
The Conservatives, who have delayed a decision on bringing home Mr. Khadr for nine months, now say the U.S. must first hand over raw video footage of psychiatric interviews with the Guantanamo prisoner – one of which was conducted by an expert for the prosecution who testified the Canadian posed grave risks if freed.
The video recordings were sealed by an American military court, meaning they are currently locked away, but the Tories are particularly interested in the conversation between Mr. Khadr and a New York forensic psychiatrist who has testified that he considers the convict a dangerous, Islamic extremist who was "marinated in the radical jihadism" during his imprisonment.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews wrote U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta July 19 requesting the Khadr interviews with Michael Welner, as well as those conducted by Alan Hopewell, another expert hired to assess his mental state. The videos were recorded in 2010.
In the letter, obtained by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Toews told the Americans he needs unedited and uncensored copies of the footage before he can make a decision on Mr. Khadr's repatriation. The convict has asked to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada instead of in the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Toews said he requires the videos to ensure that Correctional Services Canada – which oversees federal prisons – and the Parole Board of Canada are prepared for Mr. Khadr.
"Once I have received these items I will be in a position to render my decision with respect to Mr. Khadr's transfer application," he wrote.
As part of a plea-bargain deal in October, 2010, Mr. Khadr agreed to plead guilty to multiple charges, including murder and terrorism, in return for an eight-year sentence, only one of which was to be served at the U.S. naval station on a leased base in Cuba. This included confessing to throwing a grenade in Afghanistan that killed U.S. Sergeant Christopher Speer.
The 25-year-old convict has been eligible to come home since the fall of 2011 but the Conservative government, known for its reluctance to repatriate Canadians imprisoned abroad, has been slow to act.
The Public Safety Minister's office declined to discuss the letter but said the videos are now a pivotal ingredient in their decision.
"Omar Ahmed Khadr is a Canadian citizen that pleaded guilty to the murder of an American army medic," said Julie Carmichael, director of communications for Mr. Toews. "The U.S. no longer wants him and has asked us to take him."
The Harper government, which has already assured the Americans it would be "inclined to favourably consider" Mr. Khadr's request to come home, has gone to great lengths to frame a prospective repatriation as a move made only after coaxing from the United States.
Mr. Toews noted during an interview with a Winnipeg radio show host Friday that he is not obliged to bring Mr. Khadr home.
"Provided all the legal conditions are met ... I could make a decision that could keep him out for a long period of time."
Mr. Khadr's legal team on Friday accused the Harper government of grasping at straws to justify their tardiness.
The convict's lawyers said they will fully support the U.S. court releasing the videos "as soon as possible" to the Canadian government.
"This is nothing but a transparent delay tactic," lawyer John Norris said, adding that he feels it's "really unfortunate" the minister is placing any stock in what he called the "utterly spurious" opinions of Dr. Welner. He said other psychological professionals have reached the "complete opposite" conclusion regarding Mr. Khadr.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Mr. Khadr's eight-year sentence will be one-third over by July 1, 2013. At that point he would be eligible for parole under Canadian law, assuming he is, by then, in a Canadian prison.
Dr. Welner testified during the sentencing phase of Mr. Khadr's trial that he considered the convict a remorseless, unrepentant murderer regarded by radical jihadists as "al-Qaeda royalty" who could be expected to take a leadership role in their struggle.
As The Globe and Mail reported in 2010, Dr. Welner, who has publicly defended Jewish settlers in Gaza saying they "provided a buffer zone for Israel, stemming the tide of Islamo-chaos," relied on the writings of Nicolai Sennels, a controversial Danish psychologist, in making his assessment of the risks posed by Mr. Khadr.
Under cross-examination at Mr. Khadr's trial, it emerged that among Dr. Sennels's more odious claims was that "massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool."
Dr. Welner, speaking to a Toronto radio show Friday on the Colorado shootings, also defended his assessment of Mr. Khadr.
"Nobody reviewed more sources of information or interviewed people face-to-face with a range of different kinds of exposure to Omar Khadr than I did," he told Arlene Bynon on AM640 in Toronto.
He said he believes Mr. Toews deserves to view the complete footage of the interview, information that he suggested was not available to Ottawa when it cut a deal that would allow Mr. Khadr to return to Canada before his sentence was over.