Lawyers urge Harper to bring terror suspect home
August 12, 2007
After five years in detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Omar Khadr has drawn the support of Canada's lawyers, who wrote a letter Sunday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding that he lobby the Bush administration to bring the Canadian-born terror suspect home.
"Khadr should be released into the custody of Canadian law enforcement officials to face due process under Canadian law," Parker MacCarthy, president of the Canadian Bar Association, wrote in a letter Sunday to Harper and copied to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.
"The fact that Omar Khadr was a minor at the time of his capture only makes his situation more urgent."
The 20-year-old member of Toronto's notorious Khadr family was captured in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 and sent to the U.S. military compound in Cuba, where he faces accusations of killing U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer during a battle between American troops and al-Qaida fighters.
Labelled by the U.S. as an "enemy combatant," Khadr faces a military trial for alleged war crimes, but it has been bogged down by legal challenges. Human rights groups have called for his return to Canada, saying that the U.S. treatment of its enemy combatants is an affront to justice.
"It would be unimaginable that this could happen to a 15-year-old in Canada," MacCarthy said Sunday in an interview.
He acknowledged that the Canadian legal community has been slow to take up Khadr's cause.
"I guess we can be faulted for not having intervened earlier," he conceded. "I think that, to a certain extent, we may have been lulled into a sense that what was taking place (at Guantanamo) had some basis in fairness."
Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, the U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend Khadr, flew from Washington to Calgary on the weekend to address the bar association's annual meeting in an attempt to jolt them into action.
"I think that the Canadian legal community, like the Canadian government, like the Canadian people, has given the United States, their good ally and neighbour, the benefit of the doubt," Kuebler said in an interview.
Khadr is the only Western national remaining at Guantanamo Bay because other countries have successfully lobbied the U.S. to repatriate their citizens.
Kuebler, who visits Khadr regularly, said he is chained to the floor during visits. Kuebler said that the last time he saw the young man he asked for crayons and papers, an indication that he is anything but an adult. Also, he is going blind and his condition has been untreated, Kuebler said.
The Canadian government has refused to comment on the matter, other than to say Khadr faces serious charges.
If he were tried in Canada as a minor, the stiffest sentence he could face under the Youth Criminal Justice Act would be six years.
In the letter to Harper, MacCarthy points out that Canada is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Combat. The protocol sets age 18 as the minimum for engaging in armed conflict.
Kuebler said he doubts the CBA's letter to Harper will produce results, but he urged the bar association to work to raise public awareness, just as he said the Australian law society did before the government there secured the repatriation of Guantanamo detainee David Hicks.
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