The slow wheels of justice have finally turned granting bail to Omar Khadr, the wrongfully convicted Canadian citizen who was captured in Eastern Afghanistan in July 2002. Barely 15 and badly wounded, he miraculously survived two gaping wounds when bullets pierced his body completely. He was endlessly tortured and confessions extracted thus were used in a military court to convict him.
Friday April 24, 2015, 12:49 DST
After spending nearly 13 years in various prisons—Bagram, Guantanamo Bay, Kingston (ON) and Innisfail (AB)—Omar Khadr has finally been granted bail. Justice June Ross, in a verdict released today granted Khadr bail a month after his lawyers had lodged an appeal.
“This is a circumstance where balancing a strong appeal and the public confidence in the administration of justice favour the same result,” Justice Ross wrote. Khadr’s Canadian lawyers—Nathan Whitling and Dennis Edney—were elated by the verdict. “Omar is fortunate to be back in Canada where we have real courts and real laws,” Whitling said. Lawyer Dennis Edney was less charitable about the legal procedure saying, “it [bail] has been a long time coming.”
There was no certainty that bail would be granted since the Canadian federal government has tried to frustrate Khadr’s attempts to seek legal redress for what he and his lawyers have said is a travesty of justice when he was convicted by a military court at Guantanamo Bay in October 2010. His confessions were extracted under torture after he was shot and badly wounded in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan in July 2002. He was 15 at the time and, therefore, a minor. He insisted he did not throw the grenade that killed American sergeant Christopher Speer.
He was taken to Bagram prison outside Kabul in Afghanistan where his interrogation and torture started almost immediately despite gaping wounds in his body. Khadr was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in October 2002 where his torture intensified. Even Canadian intelligence agents joined in his interrogation in April 2003 in what the Supreme Court of Canada later ruled was a violation of his Charter rights.
The military judge presiding over his trial in Guantanamo Bay in 2010 ruled that confessions extracted under torture were admissible in the military court that was essentially set up to secure convictions. In a plea deal, Khadr “confessed” to the allegations and was given an eight-year sentence of which he would spend one year in Guantanamo Bay and then be eligible to serve the rest of his term in Canada.
A year later, when his lawyers made an application to the Canadian government, Ottawa stalled and another year passed before Khadr was repatriated and transferred to Milhaven Prison outside Kingston, ON. His next ordeal started since the federal government wanted to punish his family as well. Khadr was moved to Edmonton, Alberta so that his Toronto-based family would have difficulty visiting him. Edmonton is more than 2,000 km from Toronto.
His lawyers and the community in Edmonton including staff at a Christian college—yes a Christian college—rallied to his cause. Lawyer Dennis Edney and his wife Patricia have offered to take him into their house and fulfill whatever bail conditions the judge may impose. These would be announced on May 5. It is important to note that bail applications are often one-day hearings.
Khadr’s bail application took more than a month because the federal government tried to put hurdles in the way by claiming that Khadr’s release would jeopardize Canada’s diplomatic relationship with the US. How that would be the case was not explained since the US itself had agreed to send Khadr to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence under Canadian laws. Even the Americans knew they were holding an innocent man, essentially a child when arrested, even if his father—Ahmed Saied Khadr—was an al Qaeda associate who was killed by Pakistani forces in October 2003 in North Waziristan.
The Canadian government also argued that Khadr would pose a “danger” to the public but presented no evidence to back its assertion. It also tried to persuade the judge against granting him bail by saying since Khadr had appealed to a US court against his wrongful conviction, the Canadian court had no jurisdiction to grant him bail. His lawyers were able to successfully argue against all these objections. Justice Ross delivered her verdict today but the federal government may yet appeal against the decision on the ground that Khadr should stay behind bars until his US appeal is decided.
There appears no limit to the vindictiveness and racism of some ministers in the current government. Human rights advocates—lawyers, judges, lay-persons—however, have welcomed the ruling and would like to see Khadr rehabilitated in society after suffering egregious injustice for so long. It will be an important test for the Canadian judicial system.