TORONTO – Former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr is seeking bail pending disposition of his appeal in the United States against his disputed conviction for war crimes.
The bail hearing, set for March 24, would be Khadr’s first attempt at freedom since his return from a notorious U.S. prison in Cuba where he was held for eight years.
If successful, Khadr would live with his other Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, and go to school.
“It’s becoming clearer and clearer in the United States from recent cases that Omar’s convictions are invalid,” his lawyer, Nate Whitling, said from Edmonton on Friday.
“The Court of Military Commission Review is simply taking too long to state the obvious, and so it’s time for Omar to be released.”
The government, which has consistently branded Khadr as a hardened and unrepentant terrorist, has yet to respond directly to the bail application.
The Toronto-born Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a widely maligned U.S. military commission to war crimes he was accused of committing in 2002 as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan. He was sentenced to a further eight years and later said his guilty plea was his only way out of Guantanamo, given that he faced indefinite detention even if acquitted.
In November 2013, he appealed those convictions – including murder in violation of the rules of war. Essentially, he argued that what he was convicted of doing was not a war crime under either American or international law.
The various defence arguments are similar to those made by two associates of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. In both cases, a U.S. civilian court quashed their military convictions.
The Court of Military Commission Review has refused to deal with Khadr’s case on its merits pending the outcome of the other military-commission cases winding their way through U.S. civilian courts.
In an affidavit, Khadr’s Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Sam Morison, notes that Khadr could have served out his entire sentence before his appeal is heard given the snail’s pace of the proceedings.
“The applicant is pursuing the appeal as expeditiously as possible but it is unlikely that the appeal, together with any further appeals, will be finally resolved prior to the expiration of the applicant’s sentence,” his bail application states.
“The appeal is not frivolous, and indeed is highly meritorious.”
Khadr was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Canada in September 2012 to serve out the rest of his sentence. As such, his lawyers believe, the terms of that transfer give him the same rights as any other Canadian prisoner to apply for bail pending an appeal.
He is currently incarcerated as a medium-security inmate in Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta.
Whitling said the aim of the bail application is not to try to force the Americans to speed up disposition of the appeal.
“It could have that indirect effect but our purpose is not to apply pressure to the Americans: it’s to get Omar out on bail.”
The bail hearing, which is separate from Khadr’s first scheduled parole hearing in June, is to be held before the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton.