EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) – A Canadian judge deciding if former Guantánamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr should be transferred from a federal prison said Monday his ruling will come down to whether he believes he is serving time as a youth or an adult.
Justice John Rooke said Monday that the U.S. military did not clarify that when it handed 27-year-old Khadr an eight-year sentence for killing an American special forces soldier in Afghanistan when Khadr was 15.
The Toronto-born Khadr pleaded guilty before a U.S. military commission in 2010 to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantánamo Bay in 2011 under terms of a plea deal.
Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan, and has spent a decade at Guantanamo, the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. He received an eight-year sentence in 2010. He was convicted of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a 2002 firefight.
He is now an inmate at the maximum-security Edmonton Institution. His lawyer, Dennis Edney, argued that he should be treated as a young offender and moved to a provincial jail.
Edney told the court that an eight-year sentence for the murder and four other crimes only makes sense as a youth sentence.
But Canada’s federal government argued that Khadr was given eight years as a youth for murder and the sentences on the four remaining offences were to be served concurrently as an adult.
After several hours of complex legal discussion, the judge said the case requires detailed written reasons. Rooke gave no date when he would be ready and gave no hint at which way he was leaning.
Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the debate during a Monday news conference in Ottawa.
“This is an individual who, as you know, pleaded guilty to very serious crimes including murder and it is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts,” Harper said.
Monday’s appearance was the first time Khadr has been seen in public in more than a decade.
Khadr flashed a broad smile as he was led into the courtroom, sporting a white polo shirt and full beard. He shook hands with his lawyers and waved at some of the dozens of supporters in the courtroom.
Born in Toronto, Khadr spent a decade in the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba before he received the eight-year sentence.
In September 2012, he was transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence. He was first incarcerated largely in isolation at the maximum security Millhaven Institution in eastern Ontario before moving to Edmonton in May.