Word that feds set to pay Omar Khadr $10.5 million, apologize, sparks anger
The Canadian government will pay former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr more than $10 million and apologize to him to settle a long-running lawsuit, sources familiar with an agreement that sparked an emotional backlash, said Tuesday.
The Toronto-born Khadr, 30, who pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a much maligned military commission in 2010 related to alleged offences that occurred in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old, had sued for $20 million for breach of his rights.
Part of the $10.5 million Khadr will get will go to his legal team, while the apology would be delivered by the justice and public safety ministers, one source said.
Khadr’s lawyers and a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to comment publicly citing confidentiality reasons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, alluded to a pending deal.
“There is a judicial process underway that has been underway for a number of years now,” Trudeau said in Dublin, Ireland, on Tuesday. “We are anticipating, like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion.”
Amnesty International called the settlement, which another source said was signed last Wednesday, long overdue.
“For 15 years, Omar Khadr’s case has been a stark reminder of the many ways that an overreaching and unchecked approach to national security readily runs roughshod over universally protected human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty in Canada, said in a statement. “In Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and in Canadian prisons, Omar Khadr’s rights were consistently violated and ignored.”
Word of the deal also prompted fierce criticism.
Conservative party MP Tony Clement said “most Canadians know this is absolutely wrong” and urged Khadr to give any settlement money to the widow and children of the American soldier he was accused of killing in Afghanistan. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation started an online petition aimed at Trudeau, deploring the deal.
“This is offensive to many Canadians,” the petition states. “Canadians should not be forced to pay millions of dollars to a killer.”
However, the settlement money should not be seen as a windfall, a source said. Khadr is blind in one eye from injuries sustained when he was captured. His other eye remains damaged.
Khadr’s lawsuit — initially launched in 2004 — argues Ottawa violated international law by not protecting its citizen. He was later allowed to claim that Canada conspired with the U.S. in abusing him.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian intelligence officials had obtained evidence from Khadr under “oppressive circumstances,” such as sleep deprivation, during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, and shared the evidence with U.S agents and prosecutors.
Khadr, who claimed the Americans tortured him, was long dubbed a child soldier by supporters. Instead, the previous Conservative government, under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, steadfastly branded him an unrepentant terrorist.
The Harper government “offered only inflammatory rhetoric in the media, in Parliament and in the courts,” Neve said.
American troops captured a badly wounded Khadr after a fierce firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan. Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American special forces soldier, U.S. army Sgt. Christopher Speer.
Although the evidence was flimsy, he pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included Speer’s murder and was sentenced to a further eight years in custody. He later said he confessed to get out of Guantanamo.
The youngest and last Western detainee held at the infamous American prison in Cuba was returned to Canada in 2012 and sent to a maximum-security prison. He won bail in Edmonton in May 2015 pending an appeal in the U.S. of his military commission conviction. The appeal remains stalled.
On his release, Khadr apologized to the families of the victims — as he had done at his plea hearing. He said he rejected violent jihad and wanted a fresh start. Lately, he has said he wanted to work as a nurse.
Speer’s widow and retired American sergeant Layne Morris, who was blinded by a grenade at the Afghan compound, won a default US$134.2 million in damages against Khadr in Utah in 2015. Canadian experts called it unlikely the judgment could be enforced.
Lawyers for Omar Khadr are not commenting on reports Ottawa will give Khadr an apology and a $10.5-million settlement in the long-running lawsuit related to alleged offences that occurred in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old. Khadr had sued for $20 million for breach of his rights.