Seven Years Since He Left Guantánamo, Judge Rules That Omar Khadr’s Sentence Is Over, and He Is A Free Man

28.3.19

Some rare good news regarding Guantánamo, as former child prisoner Omar Khadr finally receives confirmation from a Canadian judge that his Guantánamo-related sentence is over. For other ex-prisoners, however, the stigma of being an "enemy combatant" - and their complete lack of rights - continues.
Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr with his lawyer, Nate Whitling, outside court in Edmonton on March 25, 2019, after a judge ruled that his Guantánamo- related sentence was finally over (Photo: Terry Reith/CBC).

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Some great news from Canada, where a judge has ruled that former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr’s sentence is finally over.

Back in December, I reported how, although Khadr was given an eight-year sentence after agreeing to a plea deal in his military commission trial at Guantánamo on October 31, 2010, the Canadian government continued to impose restrictions on his freedom — disregarding the fact that their ability to do so should have come to an end with the end of his sentence on October 31, 2018.  

As I explained in December, Khadr had been in court seeking “changes to his bail conditions, requesting to be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj (which would require him to be given a passport), and to speak unsupervised with his sister, who is now living in Georgia.” However, the judge, Justice June Ross of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, refused to end the restrictions on his freedom to travel, or to communicate with his sister Zainab, who I described as “a controversial figure who, in the past, had expressed support for al-Qaeda.”

It had been a long journey for Khadr over the previous eight years. Under the terms of his plea deal, he was supposed to have spent one more year in Guantánamo followed by seven years’ further imprisonment in Canada, but as I also explained in December: 

In fact, it took nearly two years before he was returned to Canada, and, when he was returned, the Canadian authorities then held him for as long as possible in a maximum security prison, only relenting in August 2013 when, as I described it in 2014, “Canada’s prison ombudsman Ivan Zinger, the executive director of the independent Office of the Correctional Investigator, said that prison authorities had ‘ignored favorable information’ in ‘unfairly branding’ Khadr as a maximum security inmate.”

In January 2014 he was moved to a medium security facility, and in April 2015 he was finally granted bail, moving in with his attorney Dennis Edney, who had cared for him for many years as though he was his own son.

On his 29th birthday, in September 2015, a judge eased his bail conditions, allowing him to visit his grandparents, and agreeing to have his electronic tag removed, and two years later, on his 31st birthday, he was allowed internet access, although bans remained on his ability to travel freely within Canada, or to meeting his sister Zainab.

Monday’s ruling, then, was long overdue, although we should all be thankful to Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau, who, as CBC News described it, “counted the time Khadr spent on conditional release for nearly four years as counting toward his eight-year sentence,” and “declared his sentence over.”

CBC News added that, “After the judge left the courtroom, a beaming Khadr embraced his lawyer, Nate Whitling,” and, outside the court, said he was pleased with the decision.

“I think it’s been a while but I’m happy it’s here, and right now I’m going to just try to focus on recovering and not worrying about having to go back to prison, or, you know, just struggling,” he told reporters.

Whitling, as CBC News put it, “said efforts to overturn Khadr’s US convictions will continue,” but he confirmed that “the completion of his sentence will mean more freedom” for Khadr. “All those conditions that were restricting his liberty up to this point are now gone, so for example he can apply for a passport, he can talk to his sister, he can travel around the world or around Canada without having to seek permission,” Whitling explained 

He also noted that, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the government has no right to appeal the decision. “It’s a final decision,” he said. “So we do expect this is the end of the road in terms of having to deal with Mr. Khadr’s sentence.” 

Speaking of the situation in the US, Whiting confirmed that he and Khadr “think that these convictions will eventually be overturned,” adding, “And I think it will be determined there was never any jurisdiction to try Mr. Khadr for these offences.”

The ongoing plight of Guantánamo’s unconvicted “enemy combatants”

While everyone who respects justice and the rule of law should be grateful that the Canadian establishment has seen sense, and has ceased to impose unreasonable restrictions on Omar Khadr five months after his sentence should actually have come to an end, the lifting of restrictions on his life stands in stark constant to the restrictions imposed on other former Guantánamo prisoners.

As I discussed just two weeks ago, in an article entitled, As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights, in Mauritania, former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi has not had his passport returned, even though he was told he would get it back two years after his release. That should have been in October 2018, but Slahi didn’t receive his passport, and cannot get an answer from anyone about whether it is the fault of his own government, or if the US is still meddling in his life. 

As I proceeded to explain in my article, Slahi’s case is typical of how former prisoners are subject to endless interference in their lives with no explanation and no basis in law. For prisoners repatriated to their home countries, as I explained, “deals were made between the US government and the prisoners’ home governments,” but “details of these deals have never been made public,” and, in any case, “whatever deals are arranged have absolutely no context in international law.” 

I added that, for those given new homes in third countries, “the situation is arguably even worse, because there is absolutely no precedent for people held by the US at Guantánamo without rights to then be transferred to a third country, where they cannot call upon any of the presumed rights that come with nationality.” 

In conclusion, I stated that “[t]he status of the ‘un-people’ of Guantánamo is a peculiarly aberrant post-9/11 creation, and one that cannot be allowed to stand forever,” and called on the Trump administration to re-instate the crucial role of the Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, which existed under President Obama, as well as explaining that it is “time for the international community to come together to demand that the disgraceful labeling of people as ‘enemy combatants,’ forever under suspicion, and forever without rights, needs to be brought to an end,” and asking anyone interested in helping address this to get in touch with me to work out how we might deal with it.

This is an invitation that still stands, and, belatedly, Omar Khadr’s case shows why it is so necessary. As someone who went through a legal process — however broken and unjust that process was — Omar Khadr, in the end, has been able to avail himself of rights that, absurdly, those also held at Guantánamo, but never charged or tried, cannot rely on. As he stated in December, when he challenged Justice Ross’s refusal to drop all his bail restrictions, “I am going to continue to fight this injustice and thankfully we have an actual court system that has actual rules and laws.” 

For most former “enemy combatants,” sadly, this is simply not true.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

34 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Some rare good news regarding Guantanamo, as a senior Canadian judge has ruled that former child prisoner Omar Khadr’s sentence is over, meaning that there should be no more restrictions on his ability to travel, or to do other things the state interfered with, such as communicating freely with his sister, who is regarded as some sort of security threat. According to the terms of his plea deal at Guantanamo in October 2010, which he only agreed to in order to return home to Canada, his sentence was supposed to end in October 2018, but restrictions on his freedom have continued to be imposed by a Canadian court for the last five months.

    This is excellent news for Omar, but, unfortunately, other former Guantanamo prisoners who never got to pass through any type of court process, however broken (as with Guantanamo’s military commissions), remain, fundamentally, “enemy combatants” without rights, whose ability to travel and to live freely is at the whim of their home governments (or their host governments, if they were resettled in a third country), without them being able to do anything about it.

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, if you’re interested in working on overturning the “enemy combatant” designation, do get touch, but for now let’s all take a moment to reflect on Omar Khadr’s freedom!

  2. Anna says...

    WOW!:-))), how wonderful to have at least one of the GWOT victims getting a chance to try and rebuild his life, even if that never will be truly possible. If he ever makes it to Europe (one of his main supporters is from Amsterdam) he’s welcome to come and have a holiday here as well, with his wife :- ).

    On the not quite related Brexit, I understand that tomorrow they will vote again on half of ‘that woman’s deal. The usual trick applied by authorities which I remember from way back : you offer only the first step for a vote or even comments, without anyone therefore knowing what the next step – which then becomes more or less inevitable – will then look like.
    Knowing that woman’s stubborn blind- & deafness, it will be exactly the same as what has been on offer before. And it does not look like there is any clarity about that for the MPs either, or even time to consider the potential options. Seems like voting ‘yes’ basically would be giving that woman carte blanche for whatever will follow. The horror!
    And if she does get it through tomorrow, will that automatically exclude the planned votes on Monday on other options? There should at least be a second referendum on the deal which then would be agreed upon (i know, you do not favour that :- ), but how to square that with EU deadlines?
    If you do leave in May and the referendum is in September, how to turn back the clock? Well, back to crossing fingers.

    And then there’s the infuriating map of the official Breturn petition https://petitionmap.unboxedconsulting.com/?petition=241584, on which they keep changing the limits of the percentage-of-constituents-who-signed categories.
    So constituencies which already had moved to a higher category, suddenly return to a previous one and thus never can really ‘make it’, not to mention how hard it is to follow its evolution … And no country-wide percentage of the electorate so concerned that they bothered to sign. The colour is steadily getting darker though, with an odd phenomenon in Northern Ireland. I seem to remember that -like Scotland- they had rather voted to remain, yet not many sign the petition to do so. Most of the signatures are from Bristol West ;- ).

    Unbelievable that all this last minute ‘discussion’ of other options had to wait until yesterday, truly unbelievable …

  3. Tom says...

    While this is great news, I remember when the Canadian govt. ordered that Khadr get compensation for being tortured and how outraged many Canadians were. I was repeatedly tortured by three psychos who were never prosecuted. Because the statute of limitations ran out, I can’t file any type of case against them or get victim compensation.

    I still have bad days with anger. Where’s MY justice? But I chose not to get eaten alive by anger. The pain is always there. But you move forward as best you can.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia R Scott wrote:

    Great news for Omar 🙌🏽

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Natalia!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Elliott wrote:

    This is good news Andy.👏✌️

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It certainly is, Anna!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Pam Arnold wrote:

    Thanks Andy, excellent

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pam. Good to hear from you!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    enemy combatant only means that you fought on the enemy’s side. Enemy soldier (seems to) mean the same thing.
    Unlawful enemy combatant means that you shot at us and you are not allowed to; either because you are a civilian and we did not threaten you, or possibly because you were not wearing a uniform that is clearly recognized at a distance.
    An enemy combatant in custody should be a prisoner of war. No?
    A Canadian lawyer seems especially well placed to look askance at the failure of due process, something the US government is forbidden from doing, full stop. (using reverse incorporation. Restrictions on the state are also restrictions on the Feds. There may be better rationales for this than that.)

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Martin A Gugino wrote:

    Now to vacate the us war crimes convictions.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m with you, Martin!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Jenifer Fenton wrote:

    Such good news

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Jenifer. The victories are rare, as you know.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jessy Mumpo wrote:

    At last, so good to hear good news Andy. Sorry I haven’t been as supportive as I’d like to be lately, life has been stupidly busy. Thank you so much for all you do xxx

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jessy. Good to hear from you, and thanks for the supportive words!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    Great news, Andy. Sanity begins to win.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    I like that, Aleksey: “Sanity begins to win.” But as I point out, it’s only because Omar went through some sort of legal process, however broken. The other “enemy combatants” who were never charged or tried aren’t so fortunate.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    This is the best news yet! thank you Andy for all your work to keep the spotlight focused on this illegal and immoral hell-hole. But as you say we must not forget the other people who are still left in there. xx

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Lindis. Good to hear from you!

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Marsden wrote:

    He lives right here in Edmonton, Alberta.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    If you see him, say hello, Richard!

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    About time!

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, better late than never, Jan!

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to 2, above:

    I hope Omar and his wife are reading this, Anna. It’s a lovely offer.
    As for Brexit, again I have to say you’re watching this more closely than most British people! What a shocking farce it is. I’m obviously glad we’re not crashing out tomorrow, but I still can’t say that I see any clarity whatsoever regarding the future.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to 3, above:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tom. Your perspective on these issues is always valuable.

  27. Tom says...

    Related to your work here. I hope the latest EU content ruling doesn’t hurt you in any way.

  28. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thank you very much for your important work on the Guantanamo captives. It is such an important area. Piercing the hysteria over the threat the captives posed is not only important from a moral/ethical considerations, but public safety choices hinge on keeping perspective on the extent to which these men posed or pose a threat.

    May I add something about Omar’s appeal? You noted that he was appealing whether the US had jurisdiction to try him. The evidence against him was very weak, but his plea agreement required him to promise to never appeal his verdict, or to appeal the sentence. And, to make sure he never mounted an appeal to a civilian court, arguing to overturn his verdict, he was required to agree that the Prosecution would destroy all the evidence.

    So, that leaves challenging whether the initial charges were valid as the only thing he can appeal.

    I can’t remember whether I’ve already offered a link to What if Omar Khadr isn’t guilty? I think it pretty clearly explains how much real doubt there should be over whether he threw the fatal grenade.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I haven’t been keeping up wth developments, and haven’t heard anything in the media, so I had a search. You’re talking about Article 13 in the new EU legislation, yes? There’s a primer in the latest New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2197907-article-13-a-guide-to-the-new-eu-copyright-rules-and-the-ban-on-memes/

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks as always for your support and interest, arcticredriver.
    I knew that Omar wasn’t supposed to ever appeal his conviction, but I wasn’t aware that “he was required to agree that the Prosecution would destroy all the evidence.” I have to say that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine anything that would show up the proceedings for the sham that they are more than including that requirement: that the evidence be destroyed. Shocking.
    Thanks also for the link to that article by Sandy Garrosino. I had written about the glaring inconsistencies in the prosecution case before, but this is an excellent analysis.

  31. Anna says...

    Good to see once more and in even more detail the argument for Omar’s innocence. I would not even call Sgt Speer’s death a ‘murder’, as it was an army battle. Never understood the idea that heavily armed military Rambo’s are allowed to kill anyone in a (one-sided to start with) battle without any blame, while the other side when killing one of those Rambo’s, is a murderous terrorist …
    Today’s ICC refusal to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan reeks of self-interest, caving in to Bolton et al, its own comfort more important than serving justice. Of course no Afghan expected Cheney or other American war criminals to be brought to justice, but the mere fact of serious attempts being made to that end, would have brought some solace.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna. I was away for a few days and so missed the latest news about the ICC, which, sadly, would seem to confirm the success of efforts by the US to make itself immune to whatever laws apply to other countries. BBC article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-47912140
    And, of course, it came just a week after US bullying was revealed regarding the ICC prosecutor, whose visa request was turned down:
    https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/apr/05/us-revokes-visa-of-international-criminal-courts-top-prosecutor
    As for Omar, one of the truly horrific outcomes of the “war on terror” has been America’s success in establishing, in a western context, that, in war, the US can do no wrong, whereas anyone who fights against them is basically a terrorist. That’s the legacy of Guantanamo – foot soldiers imprisoned indefinitely as terrorists, while those genuinely accused of terrorism get to portray themselves as warriors.

  33. paul siemering says...

    Great news Andy, and thanks for everything- You have been and are a true hero of Guantanamo and its prisoners. I remember Omar’s case from the very beginning. He was just a kid then.
    Today i read about how the supreme court refused to hear the case of Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi, a Yemeni who’s been in Gitmo for 17 years.
    Judge Breyer said it was a shame, he’d probably never get out, and that this whole “enemy combatant” thing is messed up before agreeing with the other injustices not to hear Moath. Mark Stern In Slate said yeah but why did you cast the 5th vote in Hamdi then. Barbara Lee has been trying to repeal the AUMF since it was passed and now shes getting some traction from the new people. Thanks again Andy!

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Paul, and thanks for the supportive words – and the mention of that Supreme Court decision, which I’ll be writing about soon, and Barbara Lee’s long-standing opposition to the AUMF (the Authorization for Use of Military Force), which most people don’t know about – either Lee’s long opposition to it (she was the only dissenting voice when it was passed the week after the 9/11 attacks), or, indeed, the significance of the AUMF itself, which endorsed the global wild west dragnet used to apprehend Muslim men with beards who could then be imprisoned at Guantanamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror.” And as you correctly note, Breyer’s was the casting vote in the decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in June 2004, to endorse the AUMF, allowing the US government to hold prisoners until the end of hostilities in a kind of parallel version of the Geneva Conventions.
    Mark Stern’s article here: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/06/stephen-breyer-aumf-dissent-gitmo-scotus.html

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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