Pentagon approved sketch of Khadr at U.S. military war crimes commission
For more than 10 years now, the case of Omar Khadr has been one of the most complicated and debated legal matters in Canada.
And now, there's a new controversy.
According to the Canadian Press, a federal cabinet minister's office has rejected a request for a prison interview with Khadr - even though the warden agreed to it.
Khadr is being held in maximum security at Millhaven Institution, west of Kingston, Ontario. He was brought there after being transferred back to Canada from Guantanamo Bay, where he served 10 years.
Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15, and convicted by a U.S. military tribunal of killing an American soldier with a hand grenade.
Eventually, in October 2010, as part of a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to five war crimes including murder, terrorism and spying. He received an additional eight years behind bars, which he agreed to serve in Canada.
The Canadian Press requested an interview with Khadr, which was approved by the warden at Millhaven who agreed to a telephone interview.
But that decision was reportedly overruled by the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
CP says it has obtained documents under the Access to Information Act which show the refusal came from Toews's office to Correctional Service Canada.
Usually, the warden makes the final call on allowing a journalist access to a prisoner, according to CP. Part of that decision is based on whether the prisoner agrees to talk to the reporter, and that the interview doesn't pose a security threat.
"Following the warden's detailed assessment of the request against Commissioner's Directive CD-022, it was concluded that the request complies," Christa McGregor, senior media relations adviser, wrote in an email Feb. 22 to senior ministry and ministerial staff in Toews' office.
Within 90 minutes, CP says that was overturned.
"This interview is not approved," Julie Carmichael, Toews' director of communications, responded in an internal email.
CP writes, "The decision to overrule the warden took Correctional Service insiders by surprise, prompting a further flurry of emails that reached the highest levels of the ministry.
A public servant familiar with the file, who insisted on anonymity out of fear of government retribution, said what had happened was highly unusual.
The interview request was "subjected to significant and extraordinary scrutiny from CSC's national headquarters and overt political interference," the person said.
"The warden approved of the interview taking place - and approved again after being told to reassess - before finally, and after much 'off-line' conversation with direct pressure from headquarters and the minister's office, denying the request."
Khadr in Guantanamo Bay prison in October, 2010
Khadr's lawyer said this is Conservative government "propaganda" designed to demonize his client.
And Liberal MP Wayne Easter, a former solicitor general, said "it's very much overstepping the bounds of the minister's jurisdiction. As long as the protocols are met, (the interview) should go ahead."
Correctional Service Canada said the interview was rejected because access to Khadr could pose a security risk or be disruptive, and would undermine his correctional plan.
But CP said "nowhere in the records is there any indication the warden initially found those to be issues."
Carmichael told CP the minister expects any decision regarding interview requests, to take into account the "nature of the offences" for which a prisoner has been convicted.
Lawyers for Khadr, now 26, plan to appeal his guilty plea and conviction in a U.S. federal court that has thrown out similar cases.
U.S. govt video of Khadr being questioned at Guantanamo Bay by members of CSIS
They argue none of the charges he pleaded guilty to is a war crime under international law. If his conviction is overturned, Khadr's lawyers say he would immediately be a free man in Canada.
But Carmichael said Khadr is a "convicted terrorist" and the Parole Board of Canada will decide what happens to him.
He'll be eligible for a parole hearing this summer, with two-thirds of his sentence left to be served.
via Canadian Press