Out of Guantanamo and Into a Canadian Prison, with sentence drastically reduced

On Saturday, Omar Khadr, al Qaeda member and killer of a U.S. serviceman, headed north to a civilian prison. Possible parole a year from now.

Ezra Levant - The Wall Street Journal - October 2, 2012

Two years ago this month, a Guantanamo Bay military jury sentenced a Canadian-born al Qaeda terrorist to 40 years in prison. Omar Khadr was convicted of war crimes in Afghanistan, including the killing, during an ambush, of a 28-year-old U.S. Special Forces medic named Christopher Speer, the father of two young children.

But what the jury didn't know was that, even as they were deliberating the charges of "murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying," Pentagon prosecutors had already struck a plea-bargain deal with Khadr, at the direction of Obama administration officials.

No public explanation for the deal has ever been given. But regardless of what the jury decided, Khadr would receive a sentence of just eight years. And he would have to serve only a single year of that sentence in U.S. custody before applying, with Washington's blessing, to transfer to Canada. The application process took time, but eventually was complete.

So on Saturday morning, Khadr was flown from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay to a Canadian air force base in Trenton, Ontario, and then driven to a civilian prison an hour away. His lawyers are reportedly likely to press for his parole next year.

Canada's minister of public safety, Vic Toews, was reluctant to approve the transfer and had requested more information from the Pentagon about Khadr's dangerousness. According to stories in the Toronto Star over the weekend, Mr. Toews's hesitancy had incensed senior Obama administration officials, who had warned that a refusal to take Khadr would jeopardize Canada-U.S. relations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper directed Mr. Toews to approve the transfer. Within hours of Khadr's arrival in Canada, Mr. Toews held a press conference and distanced himself from speculation in the Canadian press that Khadr could gain parole as early as next year. "Any decisions related to his future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada," Mr. Toews said.

Omar Khadr is different from many terrorists who have been detained in Guantanamo Bay. He committed his murder, in July 2002, a few weeks shy of his 16th birthday. But he was not kidnapped from his family and forced to take up arms as a child soldier, in the way that some conflicts in Africa are waged. Khadr was born in Canada and attended school there. He went to Pakistan and Afghanistan with his family to seek out the jihad. He willingly trained as an al Qaeda terrorist, recruited by his father, Ahmed, an associate of Osama bin Laden.

In 1995, Ahmed was arrested in connection with the terrorist bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan. But during a state visit to Pakistan that year, the Canadian prime minister of the day, Jean Chrétien, agreed to intercede on Ahmed's behalf. He was released a few months later, only to go back to his terrorist activities, until his death in a shootout with Pakistani soldiers in 2003.

Even at 15, Ahmed's son Omar was sophisticated. In his confession, he said he speaks five languages, acted as an al Qaeda interpreter and was trained in poisons, surveillance and bomb making. Videos found by U.S. soldiers at the Afghan compound where Khadr was captured show him assembling improvised explosive devices and posing with an AK-47.

He was no reluctant terrorist. After he threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, his first words to U.S. forces who shot and captured him were in English, cursing the soldiers and calling on them to shoot him again-and thus make him a martyr.

In a 2003 interview with the Toronto Star, Sgt. Layne Morris, who was partially blinded during the ambush that killed Sgt. Speer, said that Khadr "wasn't a panicky teenager we encountered that day. That was a trained al Qaeda agent who wanted to make his last act on earth the killing of an American."

In the years since his capture, Khadr has hardly repented of his terrorist past. His detainee assessment, prepared by Pentagon officials at Guantanamo Bay, describes him as "high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests or its allies," and it notes that he has grown more belligerent in custody.

Hundreds of lower-risk detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been released by the Bush and Obama administrations, a policy that continues despite evidence (such as a March report by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence) that nearly 28% of those released are either known or believed to have returned to terrorism. But Khadr, with his "high risk" assessment, was always among the terrorists for whom release presumably was deemed too dangerous.

One of the factors that led the military jury to issue a 40-year sentence was the testimony of Dr. Michael Welner, an American forensic psychiatrist. Dr. Welner reviewed Khadr's complete file, interviewed prison guards and then sat down with Khadr for an eight-hour conversation, recorded on videotape. Dr. Welner's conclusion: Khadr is highly dangerous. He has "said that he had nothing to regret" and "has a family that is not only jihadist but is invested, not only in his jihadism, but his leading them because others can't."

According to Dr. Welner's testimony, Khadr boasted that the "proudest moment of his life" had been planting the roadside bombs known as IEDs. When his guards weighed him-to demonstrate his good health to the Red Cross-Khadr screamed: "Sooner or later, God will take our revenge and he's going to send on you people who will torture you." Dr. Welner's written forensic-psychiatry assessment of Khadr notes that Khadr bragged to guards about how many Americans he had killed.

Khadr's lawyers also retained psychiatrists and psychologists, but they never released videos of their interviews or even their notes, and these experts did not testify at the trial. The defense team, though, has waged a media campaign to rebrand Khadr as not a threat to the world-"Guantanamo's Child," to quote the title of a best-selling book in Canada.

What Omar Khadr will do once he is out of prison is unknowable. But what's already certain is that the transfer of a Canadian terrorist from Guantanamo Bay is a public-relations coup for al Qaeda.

Guantanamo Bay guards told Dr. Welner that Khadr was treated like a "rock star" by other detainees. That rock star may one day be touring the Canadian mosque circuit-just like his father did before him.

Mr. Levant, a writer and TV anchor based in Toronto, is the author most-recently of "The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr" (McClelland & Stewart, 2012).

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