by Christopher Zoukis
The Canadian government has agreed to pay $10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an enemy combatant for over a decade. Canadian officials also agreed to apologize to Khadr for his mistreatment.
The settlement came as the result of a lawsuit filed by Khadr. In the suit, he alleged the government had violated international law by not protecting him as a Canadian citizen, and by conspiring with U.S. officials to abuse him.
Khadr was captured by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan in 2002, immediately following a firefight that left Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer dead and Sgt. Layne Morris severely wounded and blind in one eye. According to a plea agreement signed by Khadr, he threw a grenade that killed Speer and wounded Morris. He was 15 at the time.
The plea agreement resulted in the suspension of a trial underway at the Guantanamo Bay prison, where Khadr had already spent 10 years. Testimony from U.S. military personnel that might have cast doubt on his guilt was thus never heard.
Extradited to Canada to serve an 8-year sentence, Khadr claimed that he had been tortured on several occasions. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that his human rights were violated at Guantanamo Bay when Canadian intelligence agents used “oppressive circumstances” – including sleep deprivation – to obtain evidence used to justify his continued incarceration at the U.S. military prison.
Additionally, because Khadr was only 15 at the time of the firefight, questions arose as to whether he should have been classified as a “child soldier” instead of an enemy combatant.
In its ruling that Khadr’s rights had been violated, the Canadian Supreme Court did not mince words: “The interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”
Khadr is now out on bond while he appeals the plea deal. He may not collect any of the $10.5 million settlement, though. That’s because Morris and Speer’s widow sued Khadr in a Utah court, obtaining a $134 million judgment against him. Attorney Don Winder, who represents the pair, has filed an application to domesticate that judgment in Canada.
“We will be proceeding with that application and trying to make sure that if he gets money it goes to the widow of Sgt. Speer and Layne Morris for the loss of an eye,” Winder told the Associated Press.
Khadr has apologized to the families of Speer and Moore, and said he rejects violent jihad. He doesn’t deny throwing the grenade that killed and injured the soldiers, but stated he doesn’t remember if he did. A U.S. soldier had evidence there might have been someone else alive in the bombed-out building where Khadr was found, though said he assumed Khadr was the sole survivor and altered his testimony accordingly.
Public entreaties to try Khadr, now 30, on treason charges will likely fail, legal experts opined. He has already been tried by the U.S., and Canada protects its citizens from such “double jeopardy” prosecutions. Its courts have also ruled that the Guantanamo Bay military prison is operated illegally.
Sources: www.cbc.ca, www.abcnews.com, www.cnn.com, Associated Press, www.thestar.com, www.globalnews.ca
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