A federal judge in Utah last month awarded a $134.2 million default judgment in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two American soldiers against a Canadian man who pleaded guilty to committing war crimes at age 15.
Salt Lake City lawyer Laura Tanner said Thursday that collecting the award from 28-year-old Omar Khadr could be a challenge, but she’s looking for a Canadian law firm to help begin the process.
“It’s really more of a statement case, I think, than a desire to collect this,” she said. The judgment, she said, sends a message that the United States has a civil system in place to hold terrorists accountable.
The judge, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell, decided the case by default on June 8 after the suit got no answer from Khadr, who was held at Guantánamo Bay and released from a Canadian prison in May.
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In 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty before a U.S. military judge to throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of North Carolina and injured Layne Morris of Utah during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. The lawsuit sought damages for Speer’s wrongful death and injuries to Morris, who was blinded in one eye.
Khadr’s attorney Dennis Edney says Khadr pleaded guilty under duress, and there’s no evidence he did it. “Omar Khadr has been in jail so he can’t defend himself,” Edney added. Khadr has filed a $20 million wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the Canadian government.
His lawyers contended he was groomed to be a child soldier, forced into fighting by a radical father who was accused of being a senior al-Qaida financier. The plea deal prohibited Khadr from calling witnesses to those circumstances.
After his release, Khadr apologized to the families of the victims. He said he rejects violent jihad and wants a fresh start to finish his education and work in health care.
Morris has criticized the release of Khadr, saying he’s shown a willingness to hurt Canadian society and Western interests.
The suit initially sought about $45 million in damages, but the Anti-Terrorism Act calls for such awards to be tripled, said Tanner.