A Canadian judge said Tuesday she needs more time to make a decision on whether a former Guantánamo Bay inmate should be released on bail while he appeals his conviction for war crimes in the United States.
Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby is expected to announce her decision Thursday morning. It follows a last-ditch attempt by the Canadian government to keep Omar Khadr behind bars. The government is seeking an emergency stay of a lower court judge’s decision to grant Khadr bail.
Toronto-born Khadr spent a decade in the Pentagon prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Since 2012 he’s been held in a Canadian prison in the western province of Alberta, serving out an eight-year sentence handed down by a U.S. military commission in 2010. In Cuba, he pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including throwing a grenade when he was 15 years old that killed a U.S. Army sergeant in Afghanistan during a 2002 firefight.
Khadr, once the youngest detainee at Guantánamo and now 28, has since said he only agreed to a 2010 plea deal to get back to Canada.
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Canadian government lawyers argued Tuesday that releasing Khadr on bail would jeopardize the repatriation of other Canadian prisoners and damage Ottawa’s relations with Washington.
But U.S. State Department Acting Deputy spokesman Jeff Rathke said it is up to the Canadian courts to decide whether Khadr should be released.
A lower court judge granted Khadr bail last month while he appeals his war crimes conviction in the United States. That judge’s bail conditions are set to be released later Tuesday.
Defense attorneys say Khadr was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an alleged senior al-Qaida financier whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy. His Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 in a Pakistani military operation.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has long refused to support Omar Khadr, reflecting ambivalence in Canada over the Khadr family.
Khadr’s long-time lawyer Dennis Edney and wife have offered to take him into their home.
Edney said the government wants to drag it out even more.
“Why? Just because they can’t stand to see that young Muslim boy out there,” Edney said.
In court later Tuesday, Ross, the lower court judge, listened as the two sides hammered out bail conditions, should Bielby refuse the stay request by the government.
Among conditions Ross imposed were that Khadr wear a tracking bracelet, live with the Edneys, observe a curfew between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and have only supervised access to the Internet. Also, he could only communicate in English with his family in Ontario via video or phone under supervision, Ross said.
“His case is obviously extremely unique,” Ross said. “He has grown up in jail. There will be challenges ahead. Those should be carefully managed.”
Canada’s government also said that granting bail to Khadr would threaten the entire system of international prisoner transfers.
“A lack of clarity in the international transfer process may jeopardize the system as a whole,” the government stated in documents obtained by The Canadian Press. “(Khadr’s) release unsettles the foundation of this system by introducing uncertainty and a lack of control over the manner in which Canadian offenders’ sentences are enforced.”
The government argues that allowing Khadr out — given his long incarceration — presents an unprecedented risk to the public.
“Springing (him) into the community rather than allowing him to continue his planned reintegration poses an undue risk,” the government stated. It notes he has applied for parole in June.
In response, Khadr’s lawyers said the government’s case for a stay was weak.
For one thing, they said, the government acknowledges Khadr’s case is unique and will have little or no effect on other prison transfers.
“The onus is on the (Crown) to establish that irreparable harm will actually occur if a stay is not granted,” they stated in their reply brief.