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Gitmo's youngest and last Western detainee returned to Canada


Omar Khadr is seen at left in an undated family handout photo and in the most recent artist rendering from a courtroom.

A one-time teen al-Qaida fighter who was also Guantanamo Bay’s youngest prisoner and last Westerner has been transferred to his native Canada on Saturday, the Canadian government confirmed.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said Omar Khadr, 26, was flown from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday on a U.S. government plane and transferred to Millhaven maximum-security prison in Bath, Ontario.

Khadr's case has been controversial both in Canada and abroad given his age when he was captured, the nature of his detention and hearing, and the reluctance of Canadian officials to accept his return.

"I am satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada can administer Omar Khadr’s sentence in a manner which recognizes the serious nature of the crimes that he has committed and ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration,” Toews said.

A U.S. war crimes tribunal in 2010 sentenced Khadr to 40 years in prison, although he was expected to serve just a few more years under a deal that included his admission he was an al-Qaida conspirator who murdered a U.S. soldier.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured in 2002 in Afghanistan, and has spent a decade at Guantanamo, the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Khadr admitted planting 10 roadside bombs in Afghanistan as part of an al-Qaida cell and throwing a grenade that killed an American special forces medic, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M.

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Khadr was the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile. He was the youngest prisoner still at Guantanamo, but younger boys were previously held there.

Khadr, born in Toronto, was taken to Afghanistan by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, himself a senior al-Qaida member and confidant of Osama Bin Laden.

Bin Laden apprenticed the boy to a group of bomb makers who opened fire when U.S. troops came to their compound. Khadr was captured in the firefight, during which he was blinded in one eye and shot twice in the back.

In a written statement, Toews said Canada received Khadr's application for transfer from the United States on April 13. He said U.S. officials assured Canada it would receive a videocopy of an interview with Khadr, but it, along with other videos of interviews and unedited reports, was not sent until this month.

Former Canadian Ambassador Gar Pardy, however, said Canada's Conservative government -- which cultivates an image of being tough on crime -- dragged out the transfer.

"I think the government was mainly very mean-spirited in how it handled the case," Pardy said to CTV News.

Toews said he continues to be concerned that Khadr "idealizes" his father and denies Ahmed Khadr's association with al-Qaida. The Canadian public safety minister said he is also troubled by how "radicalized" Khadr has become from his time in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Guantanamo Bay.

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“From the age of 15 to 26, he has been in some kind of jail, incarcerated. He has had no normal adolescent development at all,” CBC’s Susan Ormiston told CBC News.

Khadr's defense team and human rights groups had argued he was a "child soldier" who should have been sent home long ago for rehabilitation and challenged the notion that a battlefield killing amounted to a war crime.

Khadr was prohibited under the deal from calling witnesses at his sentencing hearing that would support defense claims that he was a "child soldier," forced into fighting the U.S. by a radical father who was an associate of bin Laden.

Khadr's sentence will expire on Oct. 30, 2018.

The U.S. Department of Defense also confirmed Saturday that it transferred Khadr to Canada, leaving 166 detainees at Guantanamo.

In the 2008 presidential election campaign, President Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison during his term, but that pledge has gone unfulfilled amid security concerns and opposition from Congress, which enacted laws making it more difficult to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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