NDP, Liberals slam handling of Omar Khadr case
Published Saturday, September 29, 2012 12:01PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 29, 2012 6:52PM EDT
Responding to the news that Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr had been returned to Canada Saturday morning, the NDP and Liberal parties said they are happy he is back in the country but troubled by how long it took to bring him home.
On Saturday, Khadr returned to Canada from the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and was transferred to a maximum security facility in eastern Ontario. Khadr had been detained in the prison since 2002.
The 26-year-old, who pleaded guilty to charges of war crimes in 2010, will serve the remainder of his eight year sentence at the Millhaven Institution, in Bath, Ont.
Khadr’s transfer comes after a years of legal wrangling by his lawyers and negotiations between the U.S. and Canada, with opposition parties persistently criticizing the Conservative government for resisting Khadr’s repatriation.
Liberal leader Bob Rae issued a statement regarding Khadr’s repatriation on Saturday, calling his return “long overdue.”
“Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was a child soldier. It is extremely unfortunate that it took the Conservative government this long to fulfil its responsibility to bring him back to Canada. Now Mr. Khadr will serve the remainder of his sentence under the supervision of the Canadian correctional system, and we can ensure that he receives proper treatment and rehabilitation,” said the statement.
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar told CTV News Channel Khadr should have been returned to Canada a long time ago and that Conservative “foot dragging” and “stubbornness” had caused the delay.
“Mr. Khadr was the only Western citizen left in Guantanamo. And that’s because other countries, Australia for instance and others, had repatriated their citizens back to their countries,” said Dewar.
“We had not done that, we had foot dragged. We’d frankly been pushed in the end by the Americans to take him back.”
Dewar said he believes the Conservatives finally relented after U.S. officials ramped up the pressure to return Khadr to Canada.
“The Conservatives were very stubborn on this, not living up to their responsibility to deal with one of our citizens,” said Dewar.
Dewar said that Khadr’s prolonged detainment in Guantanamo Bay has already been established as a human rights violation and that now the government should explain why they resisted bringing him back to Canada.
“The question now is, what’s the government’ s explanation for having waited so long to have him come home?” he said.
“Just what was it that made the government so intransigent on this issue? That’s going to be an issue for the next number of months for us to delve into,” he said.
Khadr: a symbol of excessive government response
Meanwhile, human rights advocates and groups are also weighing in on Khadr’s delayed return.
“Omar Khadr’s case really became a symbol of the excessive government responses to terrorism of the last decade and all the civil liberties abuses that have occurred around the world,” said human rights lawyer Paul Champ.
Champ told CTV News Channel that the case, which saw the then 15-year-old Khadr sent to a U.S. detention and interrogation facility in Guantanamo Bay, is an example of the willingness of governments to violate human rights in the name of public safety.
The controversial base at Guantanamo Bay, commonly called ‘Gitmo’, has been the target of human rights groups who want it shut down due to concerns of human rights violations, inhumane treatment and torture.
Champ called Gitmo “a notorious prison regarded as a legal black hole.
“I think it’s been loaded with symbolism for the Canadian government,” said Champ. “They used his case as a way to show that they’re tough on terrorism, but I think, unfortunately, it’s just shown that they’re very weak on human rights.”
Champ said court decisions in both the U.S. and Canada have found that Khadr’s human rights had been violated, including two decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada.
However the Canadian government resisted U.S. pressure to repatriate Khadr, citing continuing safety concerns.
And while the public remained largely divided on the controversial case, the facts show that Khadr had a history of mistreatment since he was a young child, said Champ.
Khadr’s father is Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-born Canadian who had alleged ties to al Qaeda. The young Khadr spent a large part of his life in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“If you look at the history of his treatment, everyone will see that every adult who’s had contact with Mr. Khadr since he was about five or six had a hand in abusing him in my view,” said Champ.
Champ said that members of the human rights community, politicians and members of the general public have long understood the political dynamics of the Khadr case.
“There’s a lot of politicians who stand up for civil liberties who clearly understood what his case, Mr. Khadr’s case was about. I think significant portions of the population in both countries understood what his case was about,” he said.
“Over the next five to 10 years we’ll be able to get the distance to really understand what happened.”
Also on Saturday, the U.S. based Center for Constitutional Rights applauded Omar Khadr’s return to Canada.
In a statement issued on Saturday, CCR legal director Baher Azmy said “Omar Khadr’s transfer to Canada ends one of the ugliest chapters in the decade-long history of Guantanamo.”
Azmy argued that Khadr should never have been imprisoned at Guantanamo, given his young age at the time of his capture.
“Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials,” read the statement.
Azmy urged Canada to release him immediately and help him transition into civilian life by providing him with counselling and education.
The statement urged U.S. President Barack Obama to shut down the facility at Guantanamo Bay.