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A courtroom sketch of Omar Khadr, who is in the sentencing phase of his military trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.Janet Hamlin/Pool/The Associated Press

A top American legal officer in Afghanistan says Omar Khadr is a good candidate for rehabilitation and, unlike most Guantanamo detainees, isn't a radical jihadist.

"He was different because of the circumstance of his capture and his age,'' said U.S. Navy Captain Patrick McCarthy, who got to know Mr. Khadr between 2006 and 2008, when he served as the senior legal officer at the Guantanamo Bay prisons for suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.

"Mr. Khadr was very respectful and had a pleasant demeanour," said defence witness Capt. McCarthy, who testified Thursday by video link from Kabul during the sentencing phase of Mr. Khadr's trial.

"In my mind, his age, his lack of experience and the fact that his father took him to Afghanistan" all underpin the assessment that Mr. Khadr can likely be rehabilitated, Capt. McCarthy said

Mr. Khadr, now 24, pleaded guilty early this week to murder, terrorism and spying as part of a deal that will require him to spend one more year at Guantanamo before he can seek repatriation to Canada to serve out the rest of his eight-year sentence.

"I didn't see any outward signs of radicalism,'' said Capt. McCarthy, who dealt regularly with Mr. Khadr, including delivering clothes and educational materials sent by the Canadian government. He also said Mr. Khadr had a "positive influence'' on other detainees when frustrations mounted during his incarceration at Camp Four, a more open camp for compliant prisoners at Guantanamo.

"I had more contact with Omar Khadr than with any other detainee,'' Capt McCarthy said, saying the sole Canadian at Guantanamo was unlike the radical, angry, committed adult jihadists who made up the majority of the prison population.

"Many of the other detainees were radical and fanatic and they would throw feces at the guard staff,'' Capt McCarthy said.

The positive assessment by a senior U.S. naval officer - who was the senior legal officer at Guantanamo and had more than two years of regular contact with Mr. Khadr - stood in sharp contrast to the condemnation by Michael Welner, the prosecution-hired psychiatrist who testified that Mr. Khadr was a violent radical who poses grave dangers if released.

Dr. Welner, who has defended Jewish settlers in Gaza as "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.

Mr. Khadr has the credibility, pedigree, charisma and proven record as a killer that makes it likely he will emerge as an al-Qaeda leader, Dr. Welner said.

"He will have an instant impact on the scalability of what al-Qaeda and the radical Islamic movement will have in Canada," Dr. Welner warned.

Among Dr. Sennels' more audacious claims is that "massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool."

During cross-examination, Dr. Welner said Dr. Sennels' denunciation of the Koran as "a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things" didn't undermine his view that the Dane's work was useful in assessing the risk that Mr. Khadr will remain a violent extremist.

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