U.S. to hand over Omar Khadr Guantanamo Bay videos to Canada

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

A young Canadian who has spent almost half his life as a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay may be a step closer to returning home, however much the Conservative government might prefer he didn't.

The U.S. government has agreed to hand over videotapes of Omar Khadr's mental health assessments to Canadian officials, a condition set by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews before he could be transferred to Canadian custody.

The Canadian Press reports the military commission that tried Khadr for killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan agreed to provide the recordings after a joint application by both prosecution and defence lawyers.

The Canadian government already had complete transcripts of the two separate assessments, one each for the prosecution and defence, leading to accusations Toews was stalling the transfer, which was part of Khadr's plea agreement.

[ Related: Petition to bring home Omar Khadr draws thousands ]

The Toronto-born Khadr, now 25, was badly wounded and captured in Afghanistan in 2002 by American forces in a firefight with al Qaeda forces.

The U.S. military accused Khadr, 15 at the time, of lobbing a grenade that killed army special forces medic Chris Speer. He was moved to Guantanamo in the fall of 2002 and subsequently charged.

Khadr's accusers believe he was a committed terrorist indoctrinated by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, a confidant of Osama Bin Laden.

The elder Khadr allegedly helped finance al Qaeda through a front charity organization based in Pakistan. He and his family lived in the Bin Laden compound and his sons were given weapons training.

The family returned to Canada regularly in the 1990s, according to a National Post timeline. Ahmed Khadr would die in a shootout with Pakistani forces in 2004, which also crippled Omar's younger brother Abdulkareem. Surviving family members have returned to live in their Scarborough, Ont., home.

Omar Khadr's supporters say he was a child soldier who was coerced into a confession through threats of rape and violence. They've put legal pressure on the Canadian government to have him repatriated.

The U.S. government would like to get rid of him as it tries to fulfill President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign promise to close Guantanamo.

The assessment by Dr. Michael Welner, a key prosecution witness at Khadr's 2010 trial, found the young man was an unrepentant and dangerous jihadist, The Canadian Press says.

A second report by U.S. military psychologist Maj. Alan Hopewell concluded Khadr was defensive and manipulative but mentally stable, upbeat and an independent thinker who considers himself a Canadian.

Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 to several charges, including murder in violation of the law of war, in return for an eight-year sentence and an agreement he could be transferred to Canadian custody after serving one more year in Guantanamo.

But the process has dragged on well past the one-year mark. Toews, in requesting the tapes, said they were necessary to ensure the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board could effectively secure Khadr and appropriately administer his sentence, the Toronto Star reported.

"Once I have received these items I will be in a position to render my decision with respect to Mr. Khadr's transfer application," Toews wrote to U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

[ Related: Omar Khadr: Peace-loving Canadian or al-Qaeda royalty? ]

Meanwhile, Khadr's Canadian lawyers have filed affidavits in support of an application before the Federal Court of Canada to force Toews to make a decision, The Canadian Press said.