Youngest Guantanamo detainee returned to Canada, ending protracted legal saga


Omar Khadr is seen in this undated family handout photo. The youngest Guantanamo prisoner, Khadr, who was a 15-year-old fighting in Afghanistan when captured in 2002, was sent to finish his sentence in his native Canada on Sept. 29, 2012. (HANDOUT/REUTERS)
September 29, 2012

The youngest inmate at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen captured on an Afghan battlefield a decade ago when he was 15, was transferred to Canada early Saturday, ending a contentious legal saga.

Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to charges of murder and other war crimes in October 2010 as part of a deal with prosecutors, who agreed to allow him to serve most of his sentence in his native Canada.

Khadr’s age when he was arrested and allegations of torture by U.S. interrogators made his one of the most controversial detainee cases in the post-Sept. 11 era. The United Nations publicly criticized his prosecution, arguing that children should not be tried for war crimes.

His plea deal stipulated that Khadr, now 26, would serve an eight-year sentence, including at least one year in U.S. custody. It took the Obama administration and the Canadian government twice that long to agree on the terms of his incarceration in Canada. Under Canadian law, Khadr could be eligible for early release after serving one-third of his sentence.

“The United States coordinated with the government of Canada regarding appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” the Pentagon said in a statement Saturday morning announcing the transfer. The statement said Congress had been notified about the impending move.

Khadr’s release reduced Guantanamo’s inmate population to 166.

“Omar Khadr’s repatriation provides an opportunity for Canada to begin to right a wrong,” Andrea Prasow, an attorney at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “International law provides him the right as a former child soldier to be reintegrated into society.”

Khadr was taken into custody after sustaining serious wounds during a firefight in July 2002 in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan. He was initially held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he has said he was abused by U.S. personnel. He has alleged he was threatened with rape and forced to endure painful stress positions.

The abuse continued after he was transferred to Guantanamo in October of that year, Khadr later told his lawyers. The prisoner implicated American and Canadian government officials in the alleged abuse. Military officials disputed the abuse claims during Khadr’s prosecution.

Khadr pleaded guilty to the murder of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a U.S. Special Forces medic. He also pleaded guilty to attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and spying.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told reporters during a brief televised news conference Saturday morning that Khadr had arrived in Canada at 7:40 a.m. aboard a U.S. plane. He will be held at the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario, the minister said.

“Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,” Toews said.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.
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