Canada

'Deradicalization' part of proposed Omar Khadr rehab

Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr have mapped out a years-long plan for his potential repatriation if the U.S. military prison shuts down, one that includes psychological assessments and a religious rehabilitation program.

As talk continues regarding closure of the controversial U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lawyers for Canada's only detainee there, Omar Khadr, have turned their attention to mapping out a plan on how they would rehabilitate the alleged extremist in a program lasting years.

Omar Khadr, shown in this file photo, was 15 years old when captured by U.S. coalition forces following a deadly battle in Afghanistan. (Canadian Press)

According to the proposed repatriation and rehabilitation program filed at the military commission where Khadr is being tried, the young Toronto-born man would spend years undergoing psychological treatment, formal education and a special deradicalization program.

The plan would provide him with help developing basic life skills missed out on during his past six years behind bars and seek to prevent him from falling back into extremist circles, including with his own al-Qaeda-linked family.

"He was left in Guantanamo Bay, you know, chained to the floor for extended periods of time, not allowed to use the bathroom, forced to urinate on himself," said Khadr's defence lawyer, Cmdr. Bill Kuebler.

The 22-year-old has been held at the military prison since late 2002, months after he was captured following a four-hour bloody firefight outside Khost, Afghanistan, located near the Pakistan border.

U.S. officials allege Khadr lobbed a hand grenade that killed American army medic, Sgt. Christopher Speer, during the battle.

Fate of Guantanamo up in the air

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has refused to intervene in the case, leaving Khadr as the only Western citizen still imprisoned at Guantanamo.

A new Toronto Star/Angus Reid poll has found that Canadians have mixed feelings over repatriating Khadr.

While 42 per cent of those polled would bring Khadr back to Canada, 37 per cent believe he should face trial in Guantanamo Bay. As well, if U.S. president-elect Barack Obama shut down the facility, 48 per cent would repatriate Khadr to Canada while 41 per cent would transfer him to the U.S. to face prosecution there.

The online survey polled 1,002 adults and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Khadr is scheduled to stand trial on charges of war crimes and murder on Jan. 26, six days after Obama's inauguration.

Obama's election has thrown the fate of the prison and the military commission into question.

The Democrat has called for the closure of the country's detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and also voiced opposition to the two-year-old law signed by President George W. Bush that allows the military commission to try those accused of war crimes.

Though Kuebler has admitted Obama's election may not help his client, since the administration is unlikely to want "to be perceived as giving rights to terrorists as their first act in office," the defence lawyer has set out a proposal for how Khadr would be rehabilitated if returned to Canada.

The proposal is based on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration or DDR programs established in other countries to reintegrate child soldiers to their communities.

Psychological assessment and treatment

The first hurdle would be to determine the exact legal basis for Khadr's return to his home country.

The Canadian government would also require some legal process to keep Khadr in check. One option would be to use a so-called "control order" under Canada's anti-terrorism law, which is a form of house arrest that places restrictions on suspects' movements and requires them to report daily to a police station.

Anthony Doob, a University of Toronto criminologist, says the order may include mental health treatment, restrictions on associating with certain people and instructions to obtain a certain kind of education as part of the process of re-integrating the person in Canadian society.

An order would impose incarceration on someone who violated the strict conditions, said Doob. "It is a pretty powerful set of controls that can be put on him," said Doob.

Once Khadr was back in the country, the proposed rehabilitation program would begin, starting with six to 12 months in a secure residential facility for an evaluation of his mental state, followed by another six to 18 months in a minimum-security facility for treatment.

Dr. Howard Barbaree has offered up his institution, Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, to conduct the psychological assessment and admit Khadr for treatment, in what may be a first for the clinic.

"Never in our history, I don't think we have done an assessment of risk for terrorist activity," said Barbaree.

The centre's assessment and triage unit  — an inpatient unit that deals mostly with treatment of criminals —  would complete the review and would keep Khadr in a secure facility with TV cameras monitoring his moves, said Barbaree.

"I think we can assure that Mr. Khadr would be safe there and the chances of escape are almost zero," said Barbaree.

The psychological assessment would also seek to determine whether Khadr would pose a future terrorism threat.

Living with grandparents

Under the legal team's proposal, Khadr would then live with his maternal grandparents in a Toronto suburb for two to three years. The document notes that the couple have never been associated with radical ideologies and have agreed to host their grandson to help him readjust to urban life.

The final stage would see Khadr on a supervised release, lasting from one to three years, and under strict conditions such as forcing him to refrain from drug use, petty crime or interacting with specific individuals.

The final stage of the proposed rehabilitation would involve a religious deradicalization program.

Other countries, such as Singapore and Saudi Arabia, already employ deradicalization programs, which keep extremists in a closed environment for several months to enhance their knowledge of their own religion, rather than cut them off from it.

"Then you can turn the discussion around on them and put the Qur'an out on the table and then say, 'Well, look. Where in the Qur'an you find that it's OK to kill Christians and Jews?'" said Thomas Quiggin, Islamic radicalization expert and former Canadian intelligence officer.

Such programs would try to pinpoint the reason the person became radicalized, what the process was and identify the types of al-Qaeda themes the person is attached to. The assumption is that many Islamic radicals actually have little religious knowledge.

Quiggin believes Khadr would be a good candidate for such a program, because he is relatively young and hasn't been "exposed to classical Islamic themes."

If successful, such a re-indoctrination program would be a "huge victory in counter-radicalization and counterterrorism," Quiggin said.

Troubled by family ties

To maximize the effectiveness of such counselling, the work would ideally involve Khadr's entire family — a potentially difficult task due to their alleged links to al-Qaeda, but something successfully done in Saudi Arabia by engaging help from a prominent Islamic figure in the community.

To that effect, Khadr's U.S. lawyers have requested the help of Hamid Slimi, president of the Canadian Council of Imams.

Slimi said he would assess Khadr first, then develop a strategy to overcome any challenges or "twisted ideas."

"I would not have him in an environment where people are less educated of Islam and of Canadian values," said Slimi. "He should be in a very balanced environment where people are proud to be Muslim."

Khadr's late father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was reputedly an al-Qaeda financier and sent his male children to military training camps in Afghanistan.

In a CBC documentary, Khadr's mother, Maha Elsamnah, suggested the United States deserved the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and his sister, Zaynab Khadr, has expressed her support for the Taliban.

"It's a war. What do you expect [Omar] to do — put his hand up in the air and surrender? They killed three of his friends. He killed one. Big deal," Zaynab Khadr told CBC News in the 2004 interview in Pakistan before her and her mother's return to Canada.

Slimi said he is troubled by the public statements made by family members, who live in the Greater Toronto Area, and that counselling Khadr would have to involve navigating his family ties, though not completely cutting them off.

"You can't deprive someone meeting his mother. Still, they're human beings and everyone needs maternal love," said Slimi. "He's been away from the closest person to him in this world. So definitely, he would need to see his mother."

Doubts about reintegration

Retired U.S. soldier Layne Morris, who was present at the 2002 Afghanistan firefight and lost an eye from shrapnel, said he believes Khadr's family influence would triumph over rehabilitation.

"I don't see any retraction of their statements about being an al-Qaeda family and being interested in going out as a suicide bomber and taking Americans and Canadians with them. They've got nothing but disdain for Western culture," said Morris.

But defence lawyer Kuebler disagrees, saying the young man doesn't view the world in the same way as his family and doesn't think he would want to move back in with them.

"He wants to live a normal life. He does not want to continue a jihad. He doesn't want to be a terrorist," said Kuebler.

U.S. soldiers who guard Khadr came to similar conclusions — finding him "likable, funny and intelligent" and a "salvageable" non-radicalized person, according to Canadian Foreign Affairs documents.

One of the most "significant long-term" challenges identified by the defence lawyers will be Khadr's education and skills training, since he's been deprived of any formal education from at least the age of 11, when his father moved him to Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The lawyers' report notes that "one promising avenue" is the Toronto District School Board because of its correspondence programs and expertise in high-school equivalency courses for refugees granted asylum.

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