(Toronto) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper should take advantage of US President Barack Obama's February 19 visit to Canada to push for repatriation or fair trial of Omar Khadr, a Canadian national detained at Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights Watch said in a letter released today. Harper should also offer to resettle detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be returned home and who have been promised housing, job training, and other support by Canadian sponsors.
"For years, Canada sat on the sidelines as other western nations condemned the detentions in Guantanamo and took concrete steps to get their citizens home," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Now that President Obama has announced a plan to close Guantanamo, Canada should reverse course and help the US meet this goal."
Khadr, now 22, has been in US custody since he was 15. He is accused of killing a US sergeant during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, and was slated for trial before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay on January 26. However, on January 22, Obama issued an executive order requesting the suspension of all pending military commission cases. The order also called for the detention facility at Guantanamo to be closed by January 2010 and for the case of every detainee to be reviewed.
Among the issues in closing Guantanamo, Obama will need to find solutions for approximately 60 detainees - from countries such as Algeria, Uzbekistan, and Libya - who have reportedly expressed credible fears of torture or persecution if returned home. Canadian church groups and other organizations have offered to sponsor and provide financial support for at least four of these detainees.
"By agreeing to resettle some detainees who cannot be returned home, Canada would be helping the US overcome one of the most difficult obstacles to closing Guantanamo," Daskal said. "Such a step would be welcomed not just in Washington, but around the world."
Obama's visit to Canada will be his first foreign trip since becoming president.