A Canadian man who returned home after spending 10 years at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay is desperate to be a normal, contributing member of society, his lawyer says.
Brydie Bethell said 26-year-old Omar Khadr could barely believe he was finally back in Canada.
Khadr, the last Western detainee at Guantanamo, was transferred from the US military prison in Cuba to a maximum-security jail in Ontario yesterday.
The son of an alleged al Qaida financier, Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 to killing a US soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15 and was eligible to return to Canada from Guantanamo last October under terms of a plea deal.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had long refused to request the return of Khadr, the youngest detainee held at Guantanamo, partly due to suspicions about the Khadr family, which has been called “the first family of terrorism”.
Amid intense secrecy, Toronto-born Khadr was flown to Canada and was taken to Millhaven Institution in Ontario for a period of assessment – normal procedure for new inmates – before authorities decide where he will serve out the remaining six years of his eight-year sentence for war crimes.
John Norris, another lawyer for Khadr, said he would be eligible for parole as early as the summer of 2013.
Ms Bethell said when she visited him over the weekend, he was “just sparkling”.
“He’s been dreaming about this moment for 10 years, so it’s profoundly momentous for him,” she said.
Ms Bethell said during his time in prison, he has been studying various subjects with the long-distance help of a tutor in Edmonton, Alberta, and the first thing he wanted upon his return to Canada was a pen and paper so he could get his homework done.
“He’s so committed to his education,” she said.
The Toronto-born Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan, and was detained at the Guantanamo prison set up to hold suspected terrorists after the September 11 2001 attacks. He received an eight-year sentence in 2010 after being convicted of throwing a grenade that killed Sgt Christopher Speer.
Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews said the US government initiated Khadr’s transfer and suggested that Canada had little choice but to accept him because he was a Canadian citizen. It will be up to Canada’s national parole board whether to release him, Mr Toews said.
Mr Toews, who has said Khadr is a known supporter of the al Qaida terrorist network and a convicted terrorist, called for “robust conditions of supervision” if he was granted parole.
Mr Toews said in his written decision that he reviewed all the files forwarded by the US government and said the parole board should consider his concerns that Omar “idealises” his father and “appears to deny Ahmed Khadr’s lengthy history of terrorist action and association with al Qaida”.
He also said that Omar Khadr’s mother and sister “have openly applauded” his father’s “crimes and terrorist activities” and noted that Omar has had “little contact with Canadian society and will require substantial management in order to ensure safe integration in Canada”.
Defence lawyers have said Khadr was pushed into fighting the Americans in Afghanistan by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar was a boy.
The Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al Qaida operatives.
Omar’s youngest brother lives in Toronto and is paralysed after being shot in the attack that killed his father. Another brother was released from a Canadian jail last year after successfully fighting extradition to the US accused of supplying al Qaida with weapons in Pakistan.
The Khadr family has not yet spoken out about Omar’s return.
Khadr has claimed in the past that he was abused at Guantanamo, but Canadian Foreign Affairs officials said they accept US assurances that he was treated humanely.
Human rights groups have long criticised Mr Harper’s Conservative government for not doing enough for Khadr and the Supreme Court of Canada twice ruled that the Canadian government had violated his rights.
Canada’s three opposition parties demanded that Mr Harper’s government bring Khadr home. He has received some sympathy from Canadians, largely due to his age and the torture allegations, but his family has been widely criticised.
US defence Secretary Leon Panetta signed off on Khadr’s transfer in April.