(New York) - The Canadian government should immediately request the repatriation of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr from Guantanamo even though Canada's Supreme Court did not order it to do so, Human Rights Watch said today. Khadr, who was 15 years old when the US military took him into custody in Afghanistan, has been held at Guantanamo since 2002.
The Canadian Supreme Court today unequivocally condemned Canada's participation in Khadr's interrogations at Guantanamo as violations of Khadr's human rights, Canada's constitution, and "basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth." The court declined to order the Canadian government to seek Khadr's repatriation because doing so would intrude upon the executive's discretion in foreign affairs. However, the court held that the effects of US and Canadian violations continue into the present and that the Canadian government must, in exercising its foreign affairs powers, take this into account.
"Canada was complicit in some of the abuse Omar Khadr faced at Guantanamo" said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Canada's Supreme Court today condemned Khadr's treatment in the strongest terms. The Harper government should now work to bring Omar Khadr home to Canada."
During his more than seven years in US custody, both at the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo, Khadr was reportedly subjected to abusive interrogations. He told his lawyers that he was subjected to sleep deprivation, shackled in painful positions, threatened with rendition to Egypt, Syria, or Jordan for torture, and used as a "human mop" after he urinated on the floor during one interrogation session.
In 2003, Canadian officials, including Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) agents, interrogated Khadr at Guantanamo even though they had been informed that he had been subjected to three weeks of sleep deprivation in order to make him "more amenable" to talking to them.
Khadr, a native of Toronto, is slated for trial by military commission for allegedly throwing the grenade that killed US army medic Christopher Speer in 2002. In 2005, Khadr was charged with murder and conspiracy and is slated for trial by military commissions at Guantanamo that do not meet international fair trial standards.
Every other Western country whose nationals were detained at Guantanamo has successfully requested their return, Human Rights Watch said. Canada stands out as the sole exception.
"The United States was clearly Khadr's primary abuser, but Canada was complicit in his mistreatment," Prasow said. "The Canadian government should do the right thing and seek Khadr's return home."
A Canadian federal court first ordered Ottawa to request Khadr's return in April 2009, after finding that Canada had violated its constitution and was likely in violation of its international human rights obligations by cooperating with the United States' abusive interrogation regime. The court said requesting Khadr's repatriation was the only remedy it could offer to address the serious and ongoing human rights violations of a Canadian citizen.
The Canadian government appealed the ruling, and in August 2009, an appeals court upheld the lower court ruling. The government again appealed, and Canada's Supreme Court heard the case in November 2009.
Human Rights Watch, in conjunction with the University of Toronto law faculty's human rights clinic, appeared before the court on Khadr's behalf as one of nine interveners in the case. Arguing that Canada had become complicit in US treatment and abuse of Khadr, Human Rights Watch said the only reasonable remedy would be for Canada to seek his repatriation.
"The court's ruling puts the ball in the Canadian government's court," Prasow said. "Canada should now act to protect Khadr's rights as an ill-treated Guantanamo detainee and as a former child soldier. The best way to do this would be to make a real effort to return him to Canada."