TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO Omar Khadr
By Michelle Shephard National Security Reporter
The Toronto Star has learned that the 26-year-old prisoner was flown off the U.S. Naval base on Cuba’s southeast shore and expected to arrive in Canada early Saturday morning.
Guantanamo officials notified Khadr of his transfer Wednesday, assuring him he would be repatriated by the end of the weekend, a Pentagon source said.
Just where Khadr will be incarcerated – or where the U.S. military flight will land – continues to be a closely guarded secret.
But a Canadian government source told the Star in an interview earlier this year that the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines’ maximum-security facility, near Montreal, was a strong possibility. The prison’s Special Handling Unit, nicknamed “the SHU,” houses the majority of Canada’s prisoners convicted of terrorism offences.
More information on his whereabouts is likely to be released once he arrives on Canadian soil. The Khadr saga began more than a decade ago, in June 2002, on a battlefield in Afghanistan. The 15-year-old was shot and captured by an American Special Forces unit following a lengthy battle where U.S. Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer was fatally wounded.
Khadr is the second youngest son of now deceased Egyptian-born Canadian, Ahmed Said Khadr, who was close with Al Qaeda’s elite. The Khadr family’s unpopularity overshadowed much of his case.
In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty before a Guantanamo military tribunal to five war crimes, including “murder in the violation of war” for Speer’s death. He received an 8-year-sentence and a diplomatic agreement from Ottawa that after one more year he would be transferred to Canada in return for the plea deal.
Yet the guilty plea did little to change public opinion on the case. Some believe pleading guilty was the Canadian’s only way out of the detention facility where he had spent a third of his life. Others argue the sentence was too lenient and urged Ottawa to refuse his transfer request.
Navy Capt. John Murphy, Guantanamo’s chief prosecutor, told reporters following Khadr’s trial that he felt justice had been served. While he maintained Khadr’s juvenile status did not merit special consideration during the trial, he conceded it was important in sentencing.
“I think good prosecutors don’t always strive to get the greatest possible sentence but they balance interests,” Murphy said, adding, “I was very comfortable that the result we achieved was fair to everyone.”
But the case once again became politically charged this year - much to Washington’s consternation - as Public Safety Minister Vic Toews failed to act on Khadr’s application for transfer. Khadr’s lawyers accused the government of “abuse of process” for deliberately delaying a decision and made an application to the federal court.
Senior Obama administration officials told the Star last week that Washington’s patience with Ottawa was wearing thin and the Khadr case was jeopardizing future relations between the countries – although it is not clear if this pressured Ottawa to act.
Under Canada law, Khadr will now be eligible to apply for parole by next summer. In 2008, Khadr’s lawyers proposed a rehabilitation plan that included psychiatric treatment at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, religious counselling by a local imam and a tiered integration program that would see Khadr closely monitored for as long as four years.
However the government has given no indication that there is any formal plan in place for Khadr during his incarceration and has refused to answer questions on the case.