Omar Khadr's lawyers call him a 'model inmate'
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed that the government finally repatriated Omar Khadr after being pressured by the U.S. government. But Khadr’s lawyers say any reluctance to bring their client back to Canada is misplaced, as he does not pose a security threat.
In an interview from New York broadcast on CTV’s Question Period Sunday, Baird indicated that the government accepted Khadr because they had no other choice.
“Obviously the Americans are closing down the prison and wanted to send him back,” said a less-than enthused Baird.
“He’s a Canadian citizen, he has the right to come back. We didn’t have much of a choice … and he’s back.”
Baird brushed off allegations that Khadr – who was imprisoned at the notorious U.S. detention centre at the age of 15 – stemmed from U.S. anger over an interview between Khadr and a Pentagon-appointed psychiatrist that was leaked earlier in September.
“We have a very strong relationship with the Obama administration. We have a great relationship with Hillary Clinton. I spent some time with her this week at the UN and the matter didn’t come up,” he said.
Baird said Khadr’s future -- including when he may be up for parole -- is now in the hands of the Canadian justice system.
“In Canada, politicians don’t make these decisions, they’re made by an independent parole board. That’s the way Canadian law works and this won’t be treated any differently,” he said.
A ‘model inmate’
In a separate interview, the lawyers representing Khadr said they have few doubts he will fare well while in Canadian prison, despite spending a decade in the Guantanamo Bay facility.
One of Khadr’s lawyer’s, John Norris, said the Canadian correctional system is capable of dealing with his client.
“We have a lot of confidence that they are prepared for Omar’s arrival, and that they will be able to manage it,” he said. “The other thing to remember is that Omar is not a management problem at all. He has been a model inmate in Guantanamo.
“He has managed there and has impressed many people there and we’re sure that that will happen here in Canada, as well.”
Norris added that it will be up to Correctional Service officials to determine when and how often Khadr will be able to see his family.
“I know a lot of people are going to wonder if that is a good idea or not,” said Norris. “The fact is, this is Omar’s family. That’s never going to change. He’s a young man now, and like all of us, he will work out his own way of dealing with his family.”
Among the main tasks Khadr will face while in prison is keeping up with his homework, said lawyer Brydie Bethell, explaining that Khadr has been participating in an education program with King’s University College in Edmonton.
On the subject of Khadr’s eligibility for parole, the lawyers said they are completely comfortable with the possibility he could be released as early as next summer.
“The government has propagated a real stereotype of Omar. It’s a caricature, it’s not the real Omar Khadr,” said Norris. “We, I think, have had the privilege of getting to know at least a lot of the real Omar Khadr, and what we have seen has impressed us immensely.”
During a press conference on Saturday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews called Khadr a “known supporter of the al Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist.”
Toews also released a document outlining ongoing “concerns” about Khadr, including his mother and sister openly applauding his actions and his apparently idealizing his late-father -- an alleged founder and financier of al Qaeda.
The minister’s comments came just hours after Khadr touched down in Canada Saturday morning, aboard a U.S. military flight from the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After landing at the Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario, he was transported to the maximum security Millhaven Institution where he is expected to serve the remainder of his eight-year sentence.
Khadr was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002, following a lengthy gun battle. In 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to charges of war crimes, including the murder of U.S. Sgt. 1st class Christopher Speer.