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Guantanamo detainee is repatriated

This news story was published on September 30, 2012.
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By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times –

Omar Ahmed Khadr, the youngest and last remaining Western prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for terrorism suspects, was sent home Saturday to his native Canada after a decade at the U.S. military prison in Southern Cuba.

Human rights organizations that had fought for his release for years applauded the transfer and renewed calls on the Obama administration to make good on the president’s pledge to close the interrogation and detention facilities that have provoked international condemnation since they opened in January 2002.

Khadr was one of only four prisoners at Guantanamo serving a sentence for terrorist offenses. He entered a guilty plea at the end of his October 2010 trial on charges of “murder in violation of the law of war,” attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and material support for terrorism.

Under the plea deal, he was to serve one year of his eight-year sentence at Guantanamo, then be repatriated to Canada to serve out the rest “according to Canadian law.”

That proviso could result in his being reclassified as a child soldier rather than a war criminal and treated as a victim of the circumstances that led to his July 2002 capture at the scene of a firefight with U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan.

Whether his status will be revised or the remaining six years on his prison term invoked remained to be determined.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said in a statement that Khadr “is a known supporter of the al-Qaida terrorist network and a convicted terrorist,” suggesting the Canadian government would continue to take a hard line against the son of Ahmed Said Khadr, an al-Qaida financier who was killed by Pakistani security forces in 2003.

The younger Khadr, whose radical Egyptian-born father had taken him to al-Qaida compounds from early childhood, was 15 when he was pulled, near death, from the rubble of a bombed Taliban hide-out near Khost. He was accused of lobbing a grenade that killed Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer when the U.S. troops stormed the compound after the aerial bombing.

Khadr, gravely wounded in the bombardment and still partially blind, was interrogated at Bagram air base near Kabul for weeks before being flown to Guantanamo.

“Given the Obama administration’s glacial pace towards closing the U.S.-controlled detention center, little and late though it is, today’s news represents progress,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said of Khadr’s transfer to Canadian military custody in Ontario.

Amnesty and other rights groups accused the Pentagon of mistreating Khadr, who turned 26 on Wednesday, and of denying him a fair trial and recognition as a child soldier who should be rehabilitated rather than punished.

“Canada now has the chance to right some of these wrongs,” Nossel said.

In Canada, John Norris, one of Khadr’s attorneys, told Canadian Press that his client was in good spirits and “very, very happy to be home.”

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