Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee held at the US detention facility at Guantanamo, was transferred on Saturday back to his native Canada where he will complete a prison sentence in Ontario. His release was part of a plea agreement reached between US and Canadian officials, and included Khadr's guilty plea for events that took place in Afghanistan in 2003, when he was only fifteen years old.
Many criticized both the US and Canadian governments for the treatment of Khadr, saying he should have been regarded as a child soldier following the discovery of his age and the fact that he had been taken to Afghanistan by his father and subsequently ended up on what became a battlefield after the US invasion in 2001.
In response to the development, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Legal Director Baher Azmy issued the following statement:
Omar Khadr’s transfer to Canada ends one of the ugliest chapters in the decade-long history of Guantanamo.
Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials.
Like several other boys held at Guantanamo, some as young as twelve years old, Khadr lost much of his childhood. Canada should not perpetuate the abuse he endured in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Instead, Canada should release him immediately and provide him with appropriate counseling, education, and assistance in transitioning to a normal life.
Canada should also accept other men from Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries. An ideal candidate is Djamel Ameziane, a citizen of Algeria who fears persecution if he is returned there. Ameziane lived in Canada as a refugee legally from 1995 to 2000, has family living in Quebec, and is sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. He has applied for resettlement in Canada under their sponsored refugees program.
President Obama must close Guantanamo. Transferring Khadr is an important step, but he can and must do more. He can begin by releasing the 86 detainees remaining who have been cleared for transfer by the unanimous consent of the CIA, Defense Department, FBI, State Department, and all other relevant agencies.
With Khadr's transfer on Saturday, the US government continues to hold 166 detainees at Guantánamo.