MONTREAL — Lawyers for a young Canadian held for 10 years at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay said Thursday the government has failed to honor a deal with the United States to bring him home.
Omar Khadr, who was born in Toronto and became a child soldier for Al-Qaeda, was 15 in 2002 when he was wounded and captured by US troops during a four-hour US ground and air attack in Afghanistan.
“Canada must honor the agreement that they had with Omar Khadr and return him immediately to Canada,” his Pentagon-appointed lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson told a press conference in Ottawa.
“He is a good kid and he deserves a chance at life.”
During his 10-year detention in Guantanamo, Khadr, now 25, was not given special status as a minor, was subjected to torture, including sleep deprivation and prolonged solitary confinement, rights group say.
Khadr has been eligible for a transfer to Canada since October after pleading guilty in 2010 to five war crimes, including murder for the death of US soldier Christopher Speer, by a grenade.
Khadr’s lawyers said the deal — which had been diplomatically agreed on by Washington and Ottawa — would allow him to complete his sentence in Canada, if he spent one additional year in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But the deal has not been implemented, with critics pointing to a small but vocal opposition in Canada that views Khadr as a risk.
In April, the US legally agreed to Khadr’s transfer from Guantanamo, which has become a symbol of gross human rights violations. But the Canadian government has continued to stall, lawyers complained.
“The Canadian government has consistently failed to live up to its obligations to Omar Khadr,” John Norris, Khadr’s Canadian lawyer said.
“While Omar, a child, was trapped in a place that has been condemned around the world, the Canadian government stood idly by and said, simply, we will let the process run its course,” Norris said.
“Well that process has now long run its course. Yet, today, he still sits in a cell in Guantanamo,” Norris added.
Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire, a strong advocate of child soldiers, gave a blistering attack of the Conservative government’s handling of Khadr’s case.
“My position in all of this, since the beginning, has been that we need to respect the international convention (on the rights of child soldiers) that we have signed,” Dallaire said.
“The United States and Canada have both been guilty of violating these conventions, particularly concerning the rights of children and… the goal of making sure that child soldiers are demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated,” Dallaire said.