TORONTO (AP) — A decision by the Canadian government to apologize and give millions of dollars to a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan came under mounting criticism on Tuesday.
An official familiar with the deal said Tuesday that Omar Khadr will receive 10.5 million Canadian dollars (US$8 million). The official was not authorized to discuss the deal publicly before the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. The government and Khadr’s lawyers negotiated the deal last month.
The Canadian-born Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of an American special forces medic, U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Khadr, who was suspected of throwing the grenade that killed Speer, was taken to Guantanamo and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission.
He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included murder and was sentenced to eight years plus the time he had already spent in custody. He returned to Canada two years later to serve the remainder of his sentence and was released in May 2015 pending an appeal of his guilty plea, which he said was made under duress.
The news of the government giving millions to someone who pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. soldier has not gone over well among conservatives in Canada.
“Odious. Confessed terrorist who assembled & planted the same kind of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that killed 97 Canadians to be given $10-million,” former Conservative Minister Jason Kenney tweeted said. “Khadr confessed to murdering Christopher Speer, a medic who rushed to his aid.”
Kenney added that Khadr should be in prison paying of his crimes, not profiting from them as the expenses of Canadian taxpayers.
Conservative party Parliament member Tony Clement said “most Canadians know this is absolutely wrong” and urged Khadr to give any settlement money to the widow and children of the American soldier he was accused of killing in Afghanistan. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation started an online petition aimed at Trudeau, deploring the deal.
“This is nuts. Khadr should instead be in jail for the murder of Sergeant Chris Speer, whom he killed. No consideration for Speer’s family,” tweeted Car Vallee, the former spokesman for ex-Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But Former Liberal leader Bob Rae tweeted that compensation was “long overdue.”
Omar Khadr spent 10 years in Guantanamo Bay. His case received international attention after some dubbed him a child soldier.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 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 officials.
Khadr was the youngest and last Western detainee held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
His lawyers filed a $20 million wrongful imprisonment lawsuit against the Canadian government, arguing the government violated international law by not protecting its own citizen and conspired with the U.S. in its abuse of Khadr.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to confirm the apology and money when asked about in Ireland on Tuesday. “There is a judicial process underway that has been underway for a number of years now and we are anticipating, like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion,” Trudeau said.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Canada’s public safety minister, also confirmed there is an ongoing court process in the case.
“Settlement processes are always strictly confidential by nature. Accordingly, the Government is not in a position to provide any comment one way or another,” Bardsley said in an email.
The widow of Speer and another American soldier blinded by the grenade in Afghanistan filed a wrongful death and injury lawsuit against Khadr in 2014 fearing Khadr might get his hands on money from his $20 million wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. A U.S. judge granted $134.2 million in damages in 2015, but the plaintiffs acknowledged then that there was little chance they would collect any of the money from Khadr because he lives in Canada.
Khadr’s lawyers have long said he was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy. Khadr’s Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.
After his 2015 release from prison in Alberta, Omar Khadr apologized to the families of the victims. He said he rejects violent jihad and wants a fresh start to finish his education and work in health care. He currently resides in an apartment in Edmonton, Alberta.
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