Dallaire hopes Obama will offer to return Khadr

Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire has taken his battle for the repatriation of Canada's sole Guantanamo detainee, Omar Khadr, south of the border, hoping U.S. president-elect Barack Obama will offer to release the young man.

Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire has taken his battle for the repatriation of Canada's sole Guantanamo detainee, Omar Khadr, south of the border, hoping U.S. president-elect Barack Obama will offer to release the young man.

The retired general's lobbying efforts came on the same day that Obama advisers say the incoming president is prepared to issue an order to close the U.S. detention facility in Cuba.

Omar Khadr is shown here at 15, not long before he was captured by U.S. forces in July 2002. ((Canadian Press))
Dallaire is in Washington with a group of human rights activists hoping to put Khadr's case at the top of the incoming president's agenda.

"The reason I'm down here is because I've gotten nowhere with the Canadian government," said Dallaire.

"If the Canadians don't want to ask for him as other countries have done, then maybe the solution is that the Americans offer him to the Canadians."

Khadr has been held at the U.S. navy base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay since shortly after his arrest in 2002 at age 15 on suspicion of killing a U.S. medic.

His military trial is set to begin Jan. 26, six days after Obama's inauguration, but activists are hoping to avoid the controversial process and see the 22-year-old returned home.

Dallaire said Obama should put a stay of proceedings on the trials of Guantanamo detainees, then begin talks with the Canadian government to work out a process to return the Toronto-born Khadr home for rehabilitation and re-integration.

Early shutdown of Cuban facility 'a challenge': Obama

The retired general said he's hopeful the new U.S. administration might demonstrate some flexibility on the issue.

"If we take Omar Khadr back, we take one of [Obama's] problems away. I mean, we alleviate the situation for him where he doesn't have to look at a case of a Canadian child soldier being prosecuted in a process that is considered to be inappropriate," said Dallaire.

Obama has called for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and voiced opposition to the law signed by President George W. Bush that allows the military commission to try those accused of war crimes.

In an interview with ABC aired Sunday, Obama said that shutting down the facility within his first 100 days in office would be "more difficult than I think a lot of people realize."

But on Monday, the Associated Press quoted unnamed advisers as saying Obama plans to order the closing of the military prison as one of his first acts after taking office, possibly on his first day.

Obama has repeatedly said he plans to close the prison and deal with the 250 detainees constitutionally.

Harper's lack of action 'unstatesmanlike'

At a news conference, Dallaire said he has received no help from the Canadian government in his attempts to aid Khadr, and suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lack of action in the case was "unstatesmanlike."

Harper has remained firm in his position not to intervene in Khadr's case, saying a judicial process is underway. At a news conference in Surrey, B.C., he cautioned that one shouldn't conclude that closure of Guantanamo will change things for Khadr.

"I don't think you can necessarily leap to the conclusion that that will affect people who have in fact been charged and are facing legal process," he said. "We don't know the answer to the question. We'll be working with the incoming [Obama] administration to figure out what their policies will be in those particular cases."

The Toronto Star reported on Monday that documents obtained through access to information requests show a rift between the prime minister's public stance on the Khadr case and that of federal lawyers.

The newspaper said the documents showed that the lawyers repeatedly raised concerns about Khadr's prosecution in the U.S. because he was only 15 years old when captured.

Dallaire noted that Canada has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international law saying children under 18 years old involved in armed conflict should be rehabilitated rather than prosecuted.

The retired general said Canada should adhere to the convention, and he's now looking at ways Canada's laws could be amended to require politicians to do so.

"Bringing Khadr back will be an exercise in learning how to handle such a situation of a child being used as a soldier in a conflict and what we should do," said Dallaire.

"I think we gain by learning how to handle this case because it may not be the last [such] case in Canadian law," said Dallaire.

Khadr was taken into custody after an hours-long firefight in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border for allegedly lobbing the grenade that killed American army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer during the battle.

He is the only Western citizen still imprisoned at the detention facility at Guantanamo, which was set up following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

With files from the Canadian Press