TORONTO – Canada said Wednesday that the U.S. wants to send back the last remaining Western detainee at Guantanamo, and the Canadian government must now decide whether to take him.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is considering repatriating Omar Khadr, the ministry said in a statement. It did not say when a decision was expected, but a U.S. official suggested it could be soon.
Khadr, 25, pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo Bay 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 received an eight-year sentence in 2010 — but only one year had to be served at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
John Norris, Khadr's Canadian lawyer, said Khadr likely would be imprisoned in Canada and serve out his sentence under Canadian law. He thinks that would make Khadr eligible for parole as early as the spring of 2013.
It will be up to Canada's national parole board to release him, he added.
At the U.S. State Department, meanwhile, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the U.S. and Canada were in talks over Khadr.
"We're not going to be able give you a transfer timeline, but we're working quickly and deliberately to close this process out," Toner said.
A Canadian government official said the U.S. asked Canada to repatriate Khadr as a diplomatic favor, and Canada previously agreed to look favorably at the request. The official said the U.S. would pay to move Khadr to Canada.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, spoke on condition of anonymity.
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.
Norris, Khadr's lawyer, said the fact that the ministry has received a transfer application from the U.S. means the Toronto-born Khadr is close to returning to Canada.
"It's the last thing that needs to happen," Norris said. "It looks like we're now on the verge of a decision. We're hopeful for a prompt decision and expeditious transfer."
Norris said it was regrettable that it is taking American pressure to get Khadr back to Canada.
"The Canadian government has done many things with respect to Omar that trouble us, but if the only reason they are taking him is because of pressure from the Americans, well at least he's being transferred here," Norris said. "That's the right thing."
He said Khadr "wants a normal life back and that's something that he has been deprived of for over a decade."
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in Ottawa last month that 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.