Lawyers, advocates dispute Harper claim of ‘no real alternative’ on Khadr
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is playing fast with the facts
when he says the Conservative government has "no real alternative" to
the U.S. legal process in the Omar Khadr case, say the Canadian
"This is a disingenuous comment from the prime minister," says Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney.
"The prime minister, through his cabinet members, particularly Mr.
(Peter) MacKay, have long said that they have been assured that Omar
Khadr was being well treated, when in fact the Canadian government well
knew that was not the case," Edney said in a telephone interview from
The prime minister tried Thursday to distance his Conservative
government from explosive new documents released by the Foreign Affairs
The documents show Canadian officials knew in 2004 that the U.S.
military was depriving the then-17-year-old Khadr of sleep for weeks to
soften him up for interrogation.
Khadr is accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 at the time of the alleged incident.
Speaking in Tokyo, where the prime minister met with Japan’s emperor
and prime minister, Harper said the previous Liberal government knew
about Khadr’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay, yet did nothing.
"The previous government took a whole range, all of the information,
into account when they made the decision on how to proceed with the
Khadr case several years ago," said Harper.
"Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr, under our government,
will be treated humanely. We are monitoring those legal processes very
Canadian police officials first gained access to Khadr in Guantanamo
Bay in early 2003, more than six months after he was brought to the
military prison camp.
Nearly two years later, a Foreign Affairs spokesman said officials
had yet to gain consular or welfare access to Khadr, although Canadian
authorities did have contact with him in 2003 and 2004 for
In July 2007, a Canadian federal lawyer dismissed concerns about the
continued interrogation of Khadr, arguing that investigators had gained
useful information after questioning him. That was a year after the
Center for Constitutional Rights in New York issued a scathing report
detailing alleged abuses and torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay,
Human-rights advocates, opposition politicians and Britain’s top law
societies have all urged the Harper Tories to take urgent action in
securing Khadr’s release.
They accuse the Conservatives of being two-faced by refusing to act
on Khadr’s behalf while decrying human-rights abuses in China and
"It boggles my mind that this prime minister is prepared to
criticize China over human rights and is prepared to lambaste Mexico
for the way its criminal justice system is applied to a Canadian," said
"But when you have a young Canadian who is in Guantanamo Bay whom
Canadian courts have said has been abused and tortured, our government
The latest revelations about Khadr’s treatment while in U.S. custody
should be the straw that breaks the Conservative government’s
insistence that it will not ask for Khadr’s return, says Alex Neve of
Amnesty International Canada.
"The fact that today’s revelations don’t automatically, finally,
lead to the government’s agreeing to seek his repatriation frankly
defies belief," he said.
The prime minister could have Khadr released from Guantanamo Bay
with a single phone call, says University of Ottawa law professor Amir
"Without exception, every other leader of a Western country has got their citizens out of Guantanamo," Attaran said.
"What is being done to Omar Khadr right now rests squarely on the
shoulders of Prime Minister Harper," added Navy Lt.-Cmdr. William
Kuebler, Khadr’s U.S. military attorney.
Kuebler accused the Canadian government of knowingly hiding behind
false U.S. assurances regarding Khadr’s treatment in allowing him to be
detained in Cuba.
Videotaped interviews with Khadr are expected to come out by next
week, the contents of which Kuebler predicted would be "quite
Toronto-born Khadr, the son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, was
captured in 2002 after a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Designated an illegal combatant by U.S. authorities, Khadr is
scheduled to go on trial for murder before a U.S. military court in
October. He’s accused of having lobbed a grenade that killed a U.S.
Special Forces soldier.
The Americans say they plan to prosecute about 80 of the roughly 270
detainees held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to
al-Qaida or the Taliban, but so far none of the cases has gone to
A Canadian Federal Court judge ruled last month that Khadr’s
treatment at the hands of the U.S. military violated international laws
against torture, but did not disclose details.
The United Nations has also raised concerns about the international
precedent being set by trying Khadr for war crimes allegedly committed
when he was a child.
The Foreign Affairs Department reports say Canadian official Jim
Gould visited Khadr in 2004 at Guantanamo. While there, Gould was
briefed by the U.S. military on Khadr’s treatment.
One of the reports says Khadr was purposely deprived of sleep and
moved every three hours for 21 days to make him more pliable for
An additional report in February 2003 from the U.S. Air Force noted
that Khadr had not received any mail from his family in Canada since he
When the U.S. military finally relented and gave him a letter from
his grandmother, agents watching on video camera and through one-way
glass saw tears streaming down his cheeks as he read her words.
"Tears were coming from his eyes and he was rubbing his eyes and nose," the report says.
The air force report also notes that Arab inmates at the base picked on Khadr after interviews with investigators.
Foreign Affairs’ head of foreign intelligence described Khadr in one report as a "screwed up" young man.
"All those persons who have been in positions of authority over him
have abused him and his trust for their own purposes," wrote Scott
The officials who wrote the report, but did not formally object to
Khadr’s treatment, should be prosecuted under Canada’s Criminal Code,
"Canadian officials at Foreign Affairs appear to have been complicit in the torture," he said.
"And there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re guilty of aiding and
abetting torture, criminally . . . . It is a criminal offence."
With files from Steve Rennie in Tokyo and John Cotter in Edmonton.
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