TORONTO — The Canadian government will pay former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr more than $10 million and officially apologize to him in settlement of a long-running lawsuit, a source familiar with the agreement said Tuesday.
The Toronto-born Khadr, 30, who pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a much maligned military commission in 2010 related to alleged offences that occurred in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old, was suing the federal government for $20 million for breaching his rights.
Part of the $10.5 million Khadr will get will go to his legal team, while the apology would be delivered by the justice and public safety ministers, the source said.
Khadr’s lawyers and a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale refused to comment publicly citing confidentiality reasons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, did not deny a deal had been reached.
“There is a judicial process underway that has been underway for a number of years now,” Trudeau said in Dublin, Ireland, on Tuesday. “We are anticipating, like I think a number of people are, that that judicial process is coming to its conclusion.”
Amnesty International welcomed news of the settlement, which another source said was signed last Wednesday, calling it long overdue.
“For 15 years Omar Khadr’s case has been a stark reminder of the many ways that an over-reaching and unchecked approach to national security readily runs roughshod over universally protected human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said in a statement.
“In Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and in Canadian prisons, Omar Khadr’s rights were consistently violated and ignored.”
The settlement money, one source said, should not be seen as a windfall, given that Khadr is blind in one eye from injuries when he was captured, and there are fears he could lose sight in the other eye and will need ongoing care as he ages.
Khadr’s lawyers filed the $20-million wrongful imprisonment lawsuit, arguing the government violated international law by not protecting its own citizen and conspired with the U.S. in its abuse of the prisoner.
The suit was, in part, based on a Supreme Court of Canada decision from 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, who claimed the Americans tortured him after his capture and at Guantanamo Bay, was long dubbed a child soldier in need of protection by his supporters. However, the previous Canadian government, under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, steadfastly referred to him as an unrepentant terrorist.
“The previous Canadian government, at the most senior political levels, refused to take a stand for the rights of a Canadian citizen and for years offered only inflammatory rhetoric in the media, in Parliament and in the courts rather than make a genuine effort to come to his aid,” Neve said.
A badly wounded Khadr was captured by U.S. troops following a firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound that resulted in the death of an American special forces soldier, U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer. Khadr was accused of throwing the grenade that killed Speer but the evidence against him was flimsy.
He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included Speer’s murder and was sentenced to for a further eight years in custody. Khadr later said he only pleaded guilty to get out of Guantanamo. The youngest and last Western detainee held at the infamous U.S. military prison in Cuba returned to Canada in 2012 to serve the remainder of his sentence. He was finally released on bail in Edmonton in May 2015 pending an appeal of his guilty plea.
After his release, he apologized to the families of the victims — as he had done at his guilty plea. He also said he rejected violent jihad and wanted a fresh start to finish his education. Lately, he has said wanted to work as a nurse.
Speer’s widow and retired American sergeant Layne Morris, who was blinded by a grenade at the Afghan compound where Khadr was captured, won a default US$134.2 million in damages against Khadr in 2015, but Canadian experts called it highly unlikely the judgment could be enforced.
A long-standing attempt to get the military commission conviction against Khadr overturned in the United States remains stalled.
Earlier this year, the federal government apologized to three men to compensate them for the role Canadian officials played in their torture in Syria and Egypt. The apology to Khadr would follow similar lines, the source said.