TORONTO – Lawyers for the last remaining Western detainee at Guantanamo Bay urged Canada's Conservative government on Thursday to stop "stonewalling" the Canadian citizen's transfer.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is considering a U.S. request to repatriate Omar Khadr. The detainee's Canadian lawyer, John Norris, said Thursday that Canada has had time ample time and should bring him home.
Khadr, 25, pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and was eligible to return to Canada last October under terms of a plea deal.
Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002, and he has spent a decade in Guantanamo. He agreed to a plea deal where he received an eight-year sentence in 2010 — but only one year had to be served at the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Last April, the Canadian government said the U.S. told them they wanted to send Khadr back to Canada. The Canadian government had previously said it would look favorably at such a request.
"Omar has lived up to his part of his deal. The United States has lived up to its part of the deal. The only reason eight months after he became eligible to return to Canada that Omar still sits in a cell in Guantanamo is because the Canadian government continues to fail in its obligations toward him," Norris said.
A Canadian government official said Thursday "there has been no delay" and said officials continue to consider the transfer request in accordance with Canadian law and that the process takes an average of 9-10 months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has steadfastly refused to request the return of Khadr, the youngest detainee held at the prison. The reluctance owes partly to Canadians' ambivalence toward the Khadr family, which has been called "the first family of terrorism."
The son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, Khadr was convicted of throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan.
Defense attorneys have said Khadr was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an alleged al-Qaida financier whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.
The Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed off on Khadr's transfer in April. Panetta has said sending Khadr back to Canada would be an important step because it would serve as an example to other detainees who they are looking to return to their home countries or other places.
Some Guantanamo detainees have been reluctant to agree to plea deals after noting that Khadr remains in Guantanamo despite being eligible to leave since last October.
Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr's lead U.S. military lawyer, said American officials that he's spoken with are frustrated that Canada has not formally requested that Khadr be transferred to Canada. He said there has been a "Khadr effect" in other cases.
"The U.S. government is in a bad situation in negotiating other deals," Jackson said.