Trio of opposition MPs press for Khadr's return

Opposition MPs say they have not done enough to protect the rights of Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr and urged Ottawa Monday to press Washington to return the 21-year-old to Canada.

Opposition MPs say they have not done enough to protect the rights of Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr and urged Ottawa on Monday to press Washington to return the 21-year-old to Canada.

The NDP's Joe Comartin, Liberal Dominic LeBlanc and Vivian Barbot of the Bloc Québécois held a news conference in Ottawa along with Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler.
Omar Khadr, seen in 2002, is being held at Guantanamo Bay military prison.

Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and was charged with killing a U.S. army sergeant with a grenade during a firefight. He has been held ever since at the U.S. military base on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We did not play our proper role in protecting Mr. Khadr's rights. We are not going to remain silent any longer," said Comartin. "We have not done our job up to this point. We are going to do it in the future."

MPs will press for a full emergency debate in the House of Commons, said Comartin, who said they also plan to establish a Foreign Affairs subcommittee that will turn its attention to Khadr's case.

He added that it depends on whether there will be a federal election in the next few months.

Comartin said recent developments in the case have caused MPs to press for Khadr's release.

Justice denied to Khadr: Liberal MP

Last month, U.S. military documents that contradict Pentagon claims were inadvertantly released to reporters at Guantanamo. A statement from a U.S. solider at the 2002 firefight said Khadr was not alone when the deadly grenade was thrown, suggesting another al-Qaeda fighter may be responsible for the American soldier's death.

LeBlanc acknowledged the Khadr family has been linked to terror, but said the test of the rule of law is that it is applied equally, even in cases that aren't easy.

"One cannot be complicit in the violations of the rule of law. Omar Khadr is a child victim and should now be afforded the justice denied him all these years no matter how difficult and unpopular this may be," said LeBlanc.

Kuebler, who has repeatedly dismissed the military tribunals as illegal and unfair, said Khadr is clearly a child soldier and, under international obligations, should be released and helped to reintegrate into society. The U.S. and Ottawa are signatories to a United Nations protocol that states fighters under age 18 are to be considered as child soldiers.

"Omar Khadr … should be regarded as a victim of al-Qaeda, not a member or combatant fighting on behalf of al-Qaeda if the [U.S.] government's allegations against him are true," he said.

Khadr singled out, says lawyer

Kuebler said Guantanamo officials released a 14-year-old Afghani boy who shot and killed an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, but have continued to hold Khadr.

Kuebler said Khadr has been singled out because American officials believe he may have "intelligence value," due to his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, having been a close associate of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Kuebler said Khadr has been threatened with rendition to places where he would be raped. He also said he believes allegations Khadr has been beaten, has had dogs turned on him and is nearly blind. Earlier reports said Khadr is blind in one eye, with deteriorating health in his other eye.

"If anything is to happen for Omar Khadr, it's because the Canadian government acts in his interest and acts to protect his rights," said Kuebler.

The U.S. began shipping prisoners to Guantanamo Bay in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings, turning the naval base into a highly secure prison camp.

The heavily criticized military tribunal system has yet to complete a trial.

Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture, and forbade appeal to an independent court; but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised plan has included some additional rights.

Close Guantanamo, lawyers urge

Also Monday, the Canadian Bar Association, along with close to three dozen bar associations from around the world, called on U.S. President George W. Bush to shut the Guantanamo prison down.

The open letter cites the case of Khadr as an example of the "profound disrespect for the rule of law" shown at Guantanamo and calls for his return to Canada.

"It is the duty of Canada to request his repatriation, and it is incumbent on the United States to transfer him to the custody of the Canadian authorities," reads the letter.

Guantanamo detainees must receive fair trials and if found guilty, should be punished accordingly, says the letter.

"We must not tolerate — nor permit our respective governments to tolerate — the continuing denial of the principles underlying the rule of law. We have recently seen the results in Pakistan of continuing further down this road," said CBA president Bernard Amyot.

With files from the Associated Press