Ottawa takes its own revamped advice on Omar Khadr

Although the Liberals have chosen not to appeal the bail order for the ex-Guantánamo inmate, a larger court battle looms

Omar Khadr, right, walks out of court with his lawyer Dennis Edney in Edmonton, Thursday, May 7, 2015 in this handout photo. After 13 years in prison, former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr is getting his first taste of freedom. Khadr is out on bail after an Alberta judge rejected a last-ditch attempt by the federal government to block his release. (Nathan Whitling/CP)

(Nathan Whitling/CP)

When Omar Khadr was shot and captured in Afghanistan all those years ago, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government did not exactly fight for his Canadian rights. Although the Department of Foreign Affairs politely requested that the U.S. government not transfer the 15-year-old prisoner to Guantánamo Bay (“such a facility would not be appropriate” for a teenager, one diplomat wrote in 2002), the Liberals pretty much shut their mouths after Khadr landed in Cuba.

The Americans assured Canadian officials that their citizen was being treated fairly and humanely, and that was that.

In the years since, many veteran Liberals have expressed regret over how the Khadr file was initially handled. Bill Graham, foreign affairs minister at the time, now concedes that he should have done more to push for the teen’s release. Paul Martin, who succeeded Chrétien as PM, feels the same. (“We should have repatriated him,” Martin said, a few years back.) When Stephen Harper took office in 2006—and adopted a very similar Khadr strategy as his predecessors—the Liberal Opposition urged the new prime minister to do what they never did: stand up for his rights.

Now back in power, the party that admittedly botched the Khadr file the first time around appears willing to follow its own revamped advice. Late Thursday afternoon, the Liberal government announced what many predicted: that it would abandon the Harper Conservatives’ pending appeal of an April court decision to grant bail to the former Guantánamo inmate. Simply put, Khadr will remain a free man in Edmonton while he appeals his U.S. war crimes convictions at a special court in Virginia, a process that could take many more years.

“The Government of Canada respects the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta which determined that Mr. Khadr be released on bail in Canada pending his US appeal of his US convictions and sentence,” reads a brief joint statement, released by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. “Withdrawing this appeal is an important step towards fulfilling the Government’s commitment to review its litigation strategy.”

Now 29, Khadr spent a decade locked inside the infamous wire of Guantánamo, where he claims to have endured repeated bouts of torture. In 2010, after eight years in custody, he pleaded guilty at a military commission to five “war crimes,” including the battlefield murder of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. In an agreed statement of facts, the cornerstone of his plea, Khadr said he was a loyal al-Qaeda fighter obsessed with killing Americans “anywhere they can be found,” and that he threw the grenade that fatally wounded the Delta Force commando in July 2002. The plea deal came with an eight-year sentence, and a promise that Khadr could apply to serve the bulk of his time in the Canadian prison system.

Finally flown back home in September 2012, Khadr has since recanted his confession, saying he only agreed to the plea bargain (a “hopeless choice”) so he could escape Guantánamo. He is now appealing his convictions in the U.S., arguing, among other things, that the offences did not exist on the day of the battle—and that even if he did throw that grenade, it was a legitimate act of war, not a war crime. His lawyers also claim that he was so badly abused, beginning as a teenager, that the U.S. forfeited the right to prosecute him. “The government’s systematic and calculated mistreatment of Khadr over the course of a decade should and does shock even the most calloused conscience,” their appeal brief reads. “If this does not constitute outrageous government conduct, then the words have lost their meaning.”

It was that pending appeal that opened the door for Khadr’s early release.

Related: The remarkable bond between Lindhout, Harper and Khadr

But as much as the Trudeau government should be credited for dropping the Harper-era bail appeal—Khadr, now 29, has spent nine months as a free, obedient man, and fighting to put him back behind bars would have been a waste of time and money, especially since his sentence is set to expire in two years anyway—the Liberals clearly chose their words very carefully. They didn’t say that Khadr was horrifically abused at the hands of the U.S. government, and has suffered more than enough. They didn’t say that the party should have lobbied harder on his behalf back in 2002. And they didn’t come close to labeling him a victim.

Why? Because Khadr is still suing the Canadian government for $20-million in damages—and the Charter breaches laid out in his statement of claim revolve mostly around what the Liberals did, and didn’t do, during his early years of incarceration. In other words, Trudeau’s party isn’t quite done atoning for its acknowledged failings on the Khadr file. The only real question left is how much money it’s going to cost taxpayers.

When the lawsuit was first filed in 2004, Khadr’s statement of claim appeared destined to fail. He was in American custody, not Canada’s, so how could his Charter rights have possibly been violated? But 12 years and two Supreme Court decisions later, the lawsuit now seems unbeatable. Twice already, the country’s highest court has scolded Ottawa for stomping on Khadr’s constitutional rights—both times while the Liberals were in power.

A refresher: When he was apprehended, less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, Khadr was held at a U.S. military hospital in Bagram before being transferred to Guantánamo. By then, his father, Ahmed Said, was still very alive and very wanted, a reputed al-Qaeda financier fingered for his ties to Osama bin Laden by both the U.S. and the United Nations. And although Washington considered Ahmed’s teenage son an “enemy combatant” out of reach of consular access, it did permit “intelligence” visits. CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, was granted permission to interview him in February 2003, while Chrétien was still prime minister. An official from the Foreign Affairs intelligence branch was allowed to hitch along for the ride.

In chilling video footage released by a judge many years later, a 16-year-old Khadr pleaded with the unnamed CSIS agents to bring him back to Canada, insisting he’d been tortured. “Promise me you are going to protect me from the Americans,” he begged. A subsequent report written by the visiting diplomat said Khadr’s abuse allegations “did not ring true.” CSIS, for the record, considered the visit “highly successful.” (Seven months later, in September 2003, CSIS made a second trip to Guantánamo, this time without a diplomat. Again, Khadr claimed his previous confessions about his family’s al-Qaeda connections were false, the result of “torture.” When asked to describe the abuse he endured, Khadr told CSIS: “Listening to other people scream.”)

It was those CSIS trips that triggered Khadr’s lawsuit, alleging the Canadian spies questioned him without advising him of his basic rights to silence and legal representation—knowing full well his answers would be shared with U.S. authorities, who were weighing potential criminal charges. When Khadr was finally charged in late 2005, his legal team filed another Federal Court action, demanding access to the fruits of those CSIS interviews. After two divided lower court rulings, the Supreme Court sided with Khadr—for the first time. By then, America’s top court had already ruled that Guantánamo, circa 2003, was an illegal operation where inmates had no right to challenge their incarceration. “To the extent that Canada has participated in that process,” the Supreme Court ruled, “it has a constitutional duty to disclose information obtained by that participation to a Canadian citizen whose liberty is at stake.”

When forced, Ottawa did release all relevant documents. Among them was another bombshell report from Foreign Affairs, this one describing a solo visit by the same diplomat who accompanied CSIS on that first flight to Cuba. The April 2004 memo, written a few months after Martin was sworn in as PM, revealed that Khadr had been subjected to three weeks of systemic sleep deprivation “in an effort to make him more amenable and willing to talk.” Dubbed the “frequent flyer program,” his U.S. jailers moved him from cell to cell every three hours for 21 consecutive days.

Armed with that discovery, Khadr’s lawyers went back to court, arguing yet another Charter breach and demanding that Ottawa request his repatriation. The Supreme Court would not go quite that far, but it did conclude—again—that Canada violated his rights. Knowingly questioning a sleep-deprived teenager, the court concluded, “violates the principles of fundamental justice” and “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

The $20-million lawsuit remains active, inching its way through Federal Court. In the meantime, Khadr is still living at the Edmonton home of one of his longtime lawyers, Dennis Edney, while studying to become an emergency medical technician.

If he wins his lawsuit—or the Liberal government chooses to settle out of court—he may not need a job. Like all things Khadr, only time will tell.


Ottawa takes its own revamped advice on Omar Khadr

  1. Give me a Break Maclean’s Zoolander has Restored Funding for Hamas and Omar will be Running for the Libranos in the 2019 Election…

    • Give me a break. If you can’t post anything thoughtful, why waste your time posting nonsense.

    • Let’s recap:

      1. Campaign in extremist mosques in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal prior to the Oct 19 election. Cowtow to extremists, and say Conservatives are racists and bad.

      2. Get elected with the support of most Canadians of Muslim extraction and forget the Jews. More muslims means more votes…..Pandering is what Liberals do. And guess what….it worked.

      3. Restore funding to Hamas…er, I mean, the United nations. UNRWA and allow them to continue their war of terrorism against Jews and Israel.

      4. Let tens of thousands of Muslim’s into Canada and accuse anyone who disapproves of being un-Canadian.

      5. Restore funding to “refugees” for health care and say Conservatives were meanies for cutting it in the first place. Who cares about the costs……Liberals won’t pay for it…you will. Liberals are just hoping for your vote next election.

      6. Consider lifting sanctions against IRAN as that country continues with their efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

      Hey Liberals !!!!..

      What do you do next to show your support for Muslim’s and guarantee their support? At this rate, you’ll have your lesser known MP’s strapping on semtex and visting the kosher deli’s.

      Give it a rest already……

  2. “If this does not constitute outrageous government conduct, then the words have lost their meaning.”
    I could not say it better.

  3. Great to hear the Trudeau government ended it’s appeal….

  4. I am not a Khadr fan but at this point he has served his time, and it was hard time and more time than any 15 year old has served for murder. No family visits and under Military supervision. He has paid his debt to society and more time than any 15 year old has served for murder. Hopefully he has reformed and gets on with his life.

    • Please do not imply that anything that happens in Guantanamo is justice.

      • Guantanamo is Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama’s prison. How could anything bad possibly happen there? !!! -).

        Khadr was lucky he was in Guantanamo. Otherwise Obama probably would have dropped a drone missile on his head, which is his preferred modus operandi.

  5. Sadly, this story omits the fact that Khadr is a murderer.

    • Exactly right. He killed an American Soldier in Combat. Call it Murder. Was it Combat? Treason? What gets me is that the hundreds of other Young Offenders in Canada who take a life and serve next to nothing and are walking the streets again. Khadr has done more than his time according to the Canadian Justice system which I do not agree with but it is our system. Personally I can’t stand the whole Khadr family but this child / man has done his time.

  6. This person Khadr was fighting for terrorists, comes from a terrorist supporting family, and you want ME to pay him millions of $$ because “we didn’t protect him well enough from the Americans when instead of just killing him as they had every right to do, they captured him and treated him like the enemy he was to all of us”. This is insanity. He’s a poster child for crying “victim” so the rest of us will give him a free ride. Pathetic.

    • Omar Khadr was born in Canada & is a Canadian citizen. Whether you like it or not the same laws that protect you as a citizen also protect him. If we pick & choose whose rights we protect & whose we don’t, none of us have protection.

      • Kay, the problem isn’t the rights we all have. The problem is the laws we have. If you are a convicted terrorist……you should be put in a windowless hole in the ground and leave you there to rot until you die.

        No bail, no release, no koran…nothing. If you are going to live as human scum, that is how we’ll treat you.

      • exactly he is a Canadian Citizen and he killed a soldier of an allied Country – that’s treason. bye bye Omar…

    • No. He’s asking for money because he was a child soldier who was captured, denied conditions outlined in the Geneva Convention, and his country turned a blind eye.

      One of our fellow citizens was being openly being tortured by a friendly country and our government did nothing.

      • partridge,

        You can consider Khadr as a fellow citizen if you wish…..but most SANE people would rather wish the little shit was left dead in the ditch where they found him. As for our Country doing “nothing” it was the LIberals in charge, and they didn’t do nothing. They used the intel gleaned to prevent further attacks hopefully. As they should.

        hell….if i thought it would prevent a terror attack, I would strap the prick in a chair and personnally pick out the vice grips best used to extract his teeth to get info. If he didn’t provide what I wanted, he could gum his prayers to the pervert he worships.

      • Bleeding heart Liberal. I guess you missed the photos of your fellow citizen making IEDs, walking around with somebody’s severed hands. I guess Christopher Spears, the Medic that your Fellow citizen killed doesn’t matter or his family.

  7. This little murderer will likely receive a Govenor General award for bravery.

      • Kay,

        Wait for it. If not the Governor General Award, I’m sure Concordia, York, Queens, or someone at the CBC will present him with something to recognize his “bravery”…..

        gack !!

  8. So Khadr wants $20M because Canada didn’t do enough to protect him from hearing other people scream? I can understand Trudeau’s government continuing to resist, if for no other reason than the precedent it would set to pay someone for being subjected to screaming, given that’s the reaction most of us have to the ineptitude that government has already displayed during its brief tenure.

    I have every expectation Trudeau will eventually cave and throw a few million at Omar so he can finally pay off his “selfless” lawyer – perhaps then he’ll follow the lead of his fellow payee, Mr. Arar and devote the rest of his life to defending the misunderstood proponents of the more extreme iterations of his faith against the attacks of the real enemy, i.e. Republican presidential candidates.

    Plus, I’m sure the “child soldier” who is legally innocent because of the malign influence of his jihadi father (notwithstanding his insistance “…his previous confessions about his family’s al-Qaeda connections were false”) will be free to spend even more time with his surviving family members, visiting them and speaking Arabic to them being the very first relief from his bail conditions he sought. You know, just to catch up on what the Afghani and Syrian cousins have been up to lately.

    • I am all for giving Omar an all expense paid trip to Fort Bragg, North Carolina as a gift.

  9. “it was a legitimate act of war, not a war crime”

    No its treason, he was a Canadian Citizen trying to kill an ally. pretty simple math actually. lets just charge him with treason like he should have been in the first place and drop him in a deep hole somewhere. That is my punishment for anyone who commits treason not just him…

    • First of all, I don’t think anyone would argue that what Khadr did was stupid. To me though, we need to remember his age. He was 15 years old. There is a reason why we have young offender laws in Canada. Our system, however imperfect, recognizes that a minor under the age of 18 does not have the ability to reason and make decisions and assess risk like an adult can. Research even backs this up. A human being’s pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that weighs risk, doesn’t mature until we are 25 years old… Consider this link among many… http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24173194

      As other commenters have pointed out already, Khadr has paid a much, much higher price for his crimes than other young offenders of stupid, violent crimes in Canada.

      I for one am concerned at the lengths that the United States, Canada and other countries go to justify what at the Nuremberg trials of 1946 were considered crimes against humanity. Torture to get information, inhumane treatment of prisoners, even death… Nazis hung in 1946 and justifiably so for having experimented on human beings, tortured their prisons, burned down and bulldozing whole towns that opposed them and for subjecting whole populations to a reign of terror…

      While our current leaders haven’t enforced a police state yet, they are setting up all of the mechanisms to make it happen. The only thing that can stop them is for us as citizens to hold our leaders accountable and for the courts to uphold the charter rights of all Canadians.

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