OTTAWA – Federal lawyers are appealing a court ruling that ordered the government to seek Omar Khadr’s return from Guantanamo Bay.
The federal government has filed an appeal of a Federal Court ruling that it seek the return of Khadr, 22, from the U.S. military prison in Cuba. Judge James O’Reilly ruled in April that the Conservative government’s refusal to demand repatriation of Khadr offends fundamental justice.
The judge ruled that the government must ask the United States “as soon as practicable” to send Khadr home.
Government lawyer Doreen Mueller spent much of Tuesday morning arguing that Canada has gone out of its way to help Khadr.
Mueller recounted several visits Canadian officials paid to Khadr in Guantanamo over the years, as well as letters Canada sent the United States advocating on Khadr’s behalf.
“If there is an obligation … surely all this Canada has done since 2002 satisfies this obligation,” she said.
Opposition parties have demanded that Khadr be brought home and tried in Canada, if necessary, in light of the court decision.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Fox News this month that Canada won’t be taking any Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Harper told the U.S. network that he is “not offering Canada as a safe haven for anyone that the United States considers to be a terrorist.”
Without mentioning Khadr by name, the prime minister said there is a Canadian at Guantanamo who’s charged and his government is waiting to see what the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama does in that particular case.
The charges against Khadr are before an American military commission, but the hearings are on hold pending a review of his case.
Prisoners from other western countries, including Britain and Australia were sent home long ago. Khadr is thought to be the last westerner at Guantanamo.
The Federal Court judges grilled Mueller over what the harm is in asking the Obama administration to send Khadr home.
“Canada doesn’t want to ask for this because Canada doesn’t want to get a yes answer,” Judge Karen Sharlow suggested.
Mueller replied it would interfere with the U.S. court case and would be tantamount to the courts dictating Canada’s foreign affairs.
She also called the prospect of the Americans abandoning their court case against Khadr and returning him to Canada “the most remote of all possibilities.”
“That’s one one-millionth of possible outcomes,” she said.
Navy Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler – who was recently fired and then reinstated as Khadr’s U.S. military lawyer – scoffed at the government lawyer’s claim.
“Frankly, I think the Bush administration would have honoured a request from the Canadian government to have Omar repatriated to Canada,” he said outside court.
“I think in light of the stated policy of the Obama administration to whittle down the population of Guantanamo Bay and repatriate as many detainees as possible, that it’s just absurd to think that if a request from Canada came in tomorrow that the Obama administration would not leap to take advantage of that.”
Khadr, who was born in Toronto, was 15 when he was captured by American soldiers in Afghanistan in 2002. He allegedly tossed a grenade that killed a military medic.
While Khadr’s plight has won him some symphony, his family has been widely criticized and called the “first family of terrorism.”
His father was an alleged al-Qaida militant and financier who was killed by Pakistani forces in 2003. A brother, Abdullah Khadr, is being held in Canada on a U.S. extradition warrant, accused of supplying weapons to al-Qaida.
Another brother, Karim, was wounded and left a paraplegic in the gunfight that killed his father. He returned to Canada in 2004 for medical treatment and lives in Toronto.
Government lawyers were in court appealing the Khadr ruling days after Ottawa reversed its position on another Canadian jailed abroad.
The government said last week it would follow the Federal Court’s order to let Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Montreal man jailed in Sudan, return to Canada.
Abdelrazik was arrested but not charged during a 2003 visit to see his mother in Sudan. He says CSIS and American FBI officers interrogated him over purported terrorist links.
Abdelrazik also claims he was tortured. Canada says it knew nothing of the alleged abuse.
Sudanese authorities have released Abdelrazik, the RCMP says there is no evidence linking him to criminal activities and CSIS maintains it has no interest in him.
But he has lived at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum because Ottawa wouldn’t issue him a travel document.