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Guantanamo's youngest detainee transferred to Canada

Canadian Omar Khadr, who was also the last westerner held at Guantanamo, was just 16 when he was detained in 2002.

Undated photo of Omar Khadr as a teenager
Undated photo of Omar Khadr as a teenager
Image: AP Photo/Canadian Press/File

THE LAST WESTERNER held at Guantanamo Bay, arrested as a teen warrior for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, returned to his native Canada yesterday, after years of delay from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Omar Khadr spent a decade at the prison at the US naval base in Cuba starting when he was just 16, making him the youngest detainee held there.

The controversy over his young age made him of Guantanamo’s highest-profile detainees. First sent to the detention center for having killed a US soldier during a 2002 fight in Afghanistan, Khadr is set to serve in Canada the remainder of an eight-year prison sentence for the crime.

But under Canadian law, Khadr could be paroled in as early a one year. Canadian officials, however, said any decision about Khadr’s future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada.

Khadr’s lawyers said his release came after they took Public Safety Canada to court to force it to have their client repatriated.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews “completely mishandled” Khadr’s case, attorney Brydie Bethell told AFP.

“We think the minister knew that he was going to be embarrassed in court and that we’d win,” she said. “No doubt he probably received some good legal advice and that’s the result.”

Khadr, who left Guantanamo aboard a US military plane, was sent to the Millhaven maximum security prison Bath, Ontario. A total of 166 detainees still remain at Guantanamo.

Background

The Toronto native was only 15 when he was shot and captured by US troops in 2002 during a four-hour US ground and air attack in Afghanistan.

Now a tall man with a heavy beard and a scarred face, Khadr has been eligible for a transfer to Canada since October 2011 after pleading guilty in 2010 to five war crimes, including for throwing the grenade that claimed the life of Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer.

He filed a formal transfer request with US authorities in November.

Both Ottawa and Washington had approved his plea deal, but a final nod was delayed as Ottawa and Washington bickered over details.

“Omar Khadr is a known supporter of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,” Toews, the public safety minister, told reporters.

Khadr has pleaded guilty to murder, providing material support for terrorism, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy and spying.

Toews said Canada’s prison system could administer Khadr’s sentence “in a manner which recognizes the serious nature of the crimes that he has committed and ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”

Met Osama bin Laden

Born in Toronto in 1986 to a family of militants, Khadr went with his family to Pakistan as a child to help with reconstruction along the Pakistan-Afghan border following the withdrawal of Russian troops, according to an online family biography.

After 1996, the family lived in a compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where a young Khadr allegedly met the late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Khadr’s case “underscores why Guantanamo should close – not tomorrow, but today,” said Amnesty International USA’s Suzanne Nossel, urging Obama to “live up to his promise to close the book on the Guantanamo chapter and ensure that all detainees are either charged and fairly tried, or released.”

President Barack Obama has pledged to close the prison but the process has been delayed amid challenges identifying a willing host country, concerns about sending them home and fierce opposition from lawmakers and other senior politicians to trying the “war on terror” detainees on US soil.

Khadr’s Canadian family welcomed his arrival and said they would visit him in prison.

Read: Two marines charged with urinating on Taliban dead >

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