TORONTO—Word that the federal government has agreed to pay former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr more than $10 million and apologize to him to settle a long-running lawsuit has sparked a furious reaction among those who see him as a terrorist killer. Those who believe he deserves compensation welcomed the news.
The settlement, confirmed by sources familiar with the deal, exposed the deep chasm that has divided Canadians over Khadr almost since 2002 when he was dragged horrifically wounded as a 15-year-old from the battlefield in Afghanistan.
“When a Canadian soldier is injured in battle, the government provides a disability award up to a maximum of $360,000,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel said in a tweet. “Despite this, the current government is willing to provide $10 million to a convicted terrorist.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation started an online petition aimed at Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deploring the deal one source said was signed last week.
“This is offensive to many Canadians,” the petition states. “Canadians should not be forced to pay millions of dollars to a killer.”
Social media exploded with denunciation of the agreement, which sources said would see the government pay Khadr $10.5 million—part of which would go to his lawyers—and the justice and public safety ministers formally apologize to him.
Posters used words such as “disgraceful,” some called for the Canadian citizen to be kicked out of the country, while others argued the money should go to the family of Chris Speer, the U.S. special forces soldier Khadr is alleged to have killed in 2002.
“Most Canadians’ thoughts would be with Christopher Speer’s widow and family, who are reliving their terrible ordeal once again because of the actions of the Canadian government this time,” said Tony Clement, another Conservative MP.
On July 4, Don Winder, the lawyer for Tabitha Speers, said he has filed an application so that any money paid to Khadr will go toward the widow and another U.S. soldier who was injured.
Winder said he filed the application a few weeks ago in Canada. It has yet to be heard.
“We will be proceeding with that application and trying to make sure that if he gets money it goes to the widow of Sgt. Speer and Layne Morris for the loss of an eye,” he told The Associated Press.
The application also seeks a declaration recognizing a US$134.1 million default judgment against Khadr from Utah in June 2015 and an order that he pay the money. It also asks for another US$900,000 in legal and other costs plus accrued interest.
Khadr’s case ‘a stark reminder’
The Toronto-born Khadr, 30, pleaded guilty to five war crimes before a much-maligned military commission in 2010. He has claimed that his American captors tortured him. His $20-million lawsuit, initially launched in 2004, alleges the federal government breached his rights by, among other things, colluding with the Americans in his mistreatment.
Those who see him as an abused child soldier called the pending settlement long overdue.
“For 15 years, Omar Khadr’s case has been a stark reminder of the many ways that an overreaching and unchecked approach to national security readily runs roughshod over universally protected human rights,” Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty in Canada, said in a statement.
“In Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay, and in Canadian prisons, Omar Khadr’s rights were consistently violated and ignored.”
His supporters accused the Canadian government—particularly the previous Conservative government under former prime minister Stephen Harper—for failing to protect him.
One source with knowledge of the agreement insisted the settlement money should not be seen as a windfall, noting Khadr is blind in one eye from injuries sustained when he was captured while his other eye remains damaged.
American troops captured the badly wounded Khadr after a fierce firefight at a suspected al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan in July 2002. Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed Speer. Although the evidence was flimsy and lacked eye-witnesses, he pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that included Speer’s murder and was sentenced to a further eight years in custody. He later said he confessed to get out of Guantanamo Bay.
The youngest and last Western detainee held at the infamous American prison in Cuba was finally returned to Canada in 2012 and sent to a maximum-security prison. He won bail in Edmonton in May 2015 pending an appeal in the United States of his military commission conviction. The appeal remains stalled.
On his release, Khadr apologized to the families of the victims. He said he rejected violent jihad and wanted a fresh start. Lately, he has said he wanted to work as a nurse.
Khadr’s lawyers have long said he was pushed into war by his Egyptian-born father, Ahmed Said Khadr, whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar was a boy. Khadr’s father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives
From The Canadian Press