Canada apologizes to ex-Guantanamo inmate, pays compensation

By David Ljunggren

 

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Friday formally apologized to a Canadian citizen held at Guantanamo Bay for a decade and said it had reached a financial settlement with him, a decision that could prove unpopular for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

 

Omar Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 15 after a firefight with U.S. soldiers and spent a decade in the prison on a U.S. military base on the eastern tip of Cuba.

 

Khadr pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. Army medic and became the youngest inmate held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Khadr later recanted and his lawyers said he had been grossly mistreated.

 

In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court said Canada had breached his rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him and sharing the results with the United States.

"There are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told a news conference.

The settlement marks the end of a C$20 million ($15.55 million) civil suit Khadr launched against Ottawa. Sources close to the case said this week Khadr would receive C$10.5 million

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said reaching a settlement was the only sensible course, given the court's ruling that Canadian officials had engaged in wrongdoing.

The official opposition Conservatives denounced news of the deal when it broke this week, saying Ottawa had no business settling with a man who admitted killing a U.S. medic.

The settlement is the fifth Canada has reached since 2007 with citizens imprisoned abroad who alleged Ottawa was complicit in their mistreatment.

The incidents took place in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when Canada and other countries scrambled to deal with the threat posed by militants.

Critics say law enforcement and security officials took short cuts which resulted in a slew of abuses.

Trudeau's Liberals took power in 2015, and he has moved to give legislators more oversight of Canada's law enforcement and security agencies and wants to create the post of intelligence commissioner, who would examine requests by agencies to gather information abroad.

University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes said the commissioner would potentially have knowledge of possible abuses and could stop them.

Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International's Canadian wing, said it was an open question whether the reforms could prevent Khadr's case from happening again.

"One of the reasons why settlement is so important ... is that it does ... make some headway against impunity and guard against future repetition," he said by phone.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by James Dalgleish)

 
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