Admitted Al-Qaeda murderer Omar Khadr could be out from behind bars in as soon as 26 months under the terms of a plea agreement reached between his lawyers and the governments of the United States and Canada.
Earlier this week, Khadr, a Canadian citizen and Guantanamo detainee, pled guilty to a series of war crimes, including the murder of a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan, as part of a plea deal in which he will serve one year in Guantanamo and seven more in Canada.
However, due to the relatively lenient parole requirements in Canada, Khadr could be eligible for full parole in just 32 months, far before the end of his eight year sentence. According to the National Parole Board of Canada, Khadr could qualify for day parole, or be released to a halfway house, just 26 months from now.
Khadr has spent the last nine years in Guantanamo following his capture by U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen. His case has been a thorn in the side of a Democratic administration that has pledged to shut down Guantanamo.
This agreement is sure to upset military officials, who the Washington Post reports had wanted a minimum sentence of 12 years, and an early release on parole could inflame opinion in certain segments of the American public.
“We appear to have established the guilt of the murder of an American Armed Forces officer… if the ultimate penalty were undone in some significant extent in Canada… there might indeed be outrage expected from Americans who’ve seen a killer potentially receiving a lighter penalty than what was considered in U.S. jurisdiction to be appropriate,” said David Harris, the former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
However, the Canadian government itself has limited control over whether Khadr will be released prematurely on full parole. “The parole process in [Canada] is not controlled by politicians. It is run by a parole board, appointed by politicians [but]… not beholden to the federal government,” notes esteemed Canadian criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan.
The nature of the crime, how he has behaved in prison, prospects for rehabilitation, potential for danger to the public, and whether he is likely to abide by the terms of the release are all factors that the parole board will consider, says Greenspan.
Also considered will be what the government’s lawyers tell the parole board, if anything. “I have strong reservations that [Prime Minister of Canada Stephen] Harper’s government is going to send a lawyer in to the parole hearing to argue that [Khadr] should get out,” said Greenspan, putting a hurdle in front of Khadr’s hopes for an early release.
A further point for the parole board to consider, says Canadian national security expert David Harris, is that counterterrorism resources will have to be diverted in order to track Khadr if he gets parole.
“By virtue of the fact that he will presumably be running free in Canada [at some point], security organizations will be obliged to keep an eye on him,” said Harris. “And that seems to me to be a prescription for unending bills in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. It draws off vital counterterrorism resources when they are desperately needed… and of course it does not rule out the possibility that his past and demonstrated pathologies might not continue in a violent form.”
The case for future recidivism was boosted today by a forensic psychiatrist’s testimony during his sentencing hearing. Reports the CBC:
Omar Khadr is likely to return to a jihadist environment after he is freed from detention unless he is first deradicalized, a forensic psychiatrist said…
Dr. Michael Welner pointed to other factors that make Khadr’s easy rehabilitation unlikely: his total lack of remorse for killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002; his unwillingness to speak to psychologists during his eight-year detention at Guantanamo Bay; and his close ties to this family, which continues to support al-Qaeda.
That Khadr is considered “al-Qaeda royalty” is also a factor, Welner said, testifying for the prosecution.
Khadr’s lawyers have said that the Canadian government has already agreed to the plea agreement allowing Khadr to return to Canada after one year at Guantanamo. The next step for Khadr will be seeing if he can convince his parole board that he should be released early.
In consideration for Canadian-American diplomatic relations, the family of murdered U.S. army medic Christopher Speer, and the national security of Canada, that board should think carefully about giving Khadr full parole.
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