The Canadian government will pay former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr more than $10 million and apologize to him in settlement of a long-running lawsuit, sources familiar with the agreement said Tuesday.
The Toronto-born Khadr, 30, who pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a much maligned military commission in 2010 related to alleged offences that occurred in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old, was suing the federal government for $20 million for breaching his rights.
Part of the $10.5 million Khadr will get will go to his legal team, while the apology would be delivered by the justice and public safety ministers, one source said.
Khadr’s lawyers and a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to comment publicly citing confidentiality reasons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, alluded to a pending deal.
“There is a judicial process underway that has been underway for a number of years now,” Trudeau said in Dublin, Ireland, on Tuesday. “We are anticipating, like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion.”
Amnesty International welcomed news of the settlement, which another source said was signed last Wednesday, calling it long overdue.
“For 15 years, Omar Khadr’s case has been a stark reminder of the many ways that an overreaching and unchecked approach to national security readily runs roughshod over universally protected human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty in Canada, said in a statement.
“In Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and in Canadian prisons, Omar Khadr’s rights were consistently violated and ignored.”
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Word of the deal also sparked fierce criticism. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, for example, started an online petition aimed at Trudeau, deploring the deal.
“This is offensive to many Canadians,” the petition states. “Canadians should not be forced to pay millions of dollars to a killer.”
The settlement money, a source said, should not be seen as a windfall, given that Khadr is blind in one eye from injuries when he was captured, and there are fears he could lose sight in the other eye.
Khadr’s $20-million lawsuit argues Ottawa violated international law by not protecting its own citizen, and that Canada conspired with the U.S. in abusing him.
The suit was in part based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision from 2010 that Canadian intelligence officials obtained evidence from Khadr under “oppressive circumstances,” such as sleep deprivation, during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, and then shared that evidence with U.S agents and prosecutors.
Khadr, who claimed the Americans tortured him after his capture and at Guantanamo Bay, was long dubbed by his supporters a child soldier in need of protection. However, the previous Conservative government, under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, steadfastly branded him as an unrepentant terrorist.
The Harper government “offered only inflammatory rhetoric in the media, in Parliament and in the courts” rather than help him, Neve said.
A badly wounded Khadr was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound that resulted in the death of an American special forces soldier, U.S. army Sgt. Christopher Speer. Khadr was accused of throwing the grenade that killed Speer.
Although the evidence was flimsy, Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included Speer’s murder and was sentenced to a further eight years in custody. He later said he confessed to get out of Guantanamo.
The youngest and last Western detainee held at the infamous U.S. military prison in Cuba was returned to Canada in 2012 and immediately sent to a maximum-security prison. He was released on bail in Edmonton in May 2015 pending an appeal in the U.S. of his military commission conviction. The appeal remains stalled.
After his release, Khadr apologized to the families of the victims – as he had done at his plea hearing. He also said he rejected violent jihad and wanted a fresh start. Lately, he has said he wanted to work as a nurse.
Speer’s widow and retired American sergeant Layne Morris, who was blinded by a grenade at the Afghan compound where Khadr was captured, won a default US$134.2 million in damages against Khadr in 2015, but Canadian experts called it highly unlikely the judgment could be enforced.
Earlier this year, the federal government apologized to three men – and compensated them – for the role Canadian officials played in their torture in Syria and Egypt. The apology to Khadr would follow similar lines, a source said.