EDMONTON — Canadian Omar Khadr will be among about 100 Guantanamo detainees who U.S. officials say will be transferred to a prison in rural Illinois, but his lawyers say they aren’t celebrating.
Nathan Whitling, Khadr’s lawyer, said Pentagon officials confirmed that Khadr will be sent to Thomson Correctional Centre sometime next year.
“People seem to think that this is an improvement and it is not. It is the same kangaroo court that they have in Guantanamo. They are just moving it somewhere,” Whitling said.
“The really sad thing is that this whole process of finally closing down the place and moving people to Thomson has now taken a full year and it is going to take at least another half a year to pull it off. And this whole time Omar has been ready to go to trial.”
Whitling said Khadr may not be transferred before his trial, which is set to begin in July, on charges that he killed an American soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. A hearing to determine what evidence can be entered at the trial is to begin in April.
Whitling said living conditions at Thomson, which is to be upgraded to a maximum-security prison, will not be better than conditions at the detention facility in Cuba. In fact, he said, they could be worse.
And Khadr will still face trial by a military commission instead of a civilian court.
“The geography isn’t the problem. The rules of this commission are the problem. And they are the same whether you have got it in Guantanamo or whether you have got it in Illinois. It is still a marked departure from a real court.”
There is some hope that the trial could be subject to the U.S. Constitution because it would be taking place within the United States, but what that will mean is not clear at this point, Whitling said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has promised to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Obama has also ordered the federal government to acquire Thomson Correctional Centre and transform it into a high-security prison.
American officials have said military tribunals for potential detainees will be held at Thomson, about 240 kilometres from Chicago. The facility could also house detainees who the president determines must be held indefinitely but can’t be tried.
Khadr, who was born in Toronto, is the only western national still being held at Guantanamo Bay.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that Khadr was among five terror suspects expected to face trial in a military tribunal.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have argued that Khadr was just a teenager when he was taken into custody and should be treated as a child soldier involved in a conflict he didn’t really understand.
The Khadr family has gained notoriety for its apparent ties to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was a purported extremist and financier of bin Laden’s terror network. He was killed by Pakistani forces six years ago.
Khadr’s family has said Omar has suffered greatly while in captivity. Documents show that his captors threatened him with rape, kept him isolated and deprived him of sleep by moving him from cell to cell. A video of a teenage Khadr crying for his mother caused an uproar when released last year.
Khadr’s other Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, has filed Canadian court challenges to compel Ottawa to act. So far he has won an injunction to stop the interrogation of Khadr by Canadian agents and forcing the government to turn over evidence in his case.
A ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada over whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper must be compelled to speak out on Khadr’s behalf is expected early next year.
Whitling said by the time Khadr goes to trial it will be eight years since he was captured by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
“Things are not improving. Things are just continuing to get worse and we think the Canadian government should step up to the plate and put an end to this farce,” he said.
“We would like the Canadian government to request that the United States return Omar to Canada.”