Canadian prisoner stuck in Guantanamo limbo

Michael Fitzgerald By Michael Fitzgerald

Canada may seem like America’s staunch ally and mild neighbor to the north, but that doesn’t mean it’s a secure place to send prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Canada has expressed a willingness to take Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who is the only Western  prisoner remaining at Guantanamo. Khadr, now 25, was tried for terrorist activities that took place when he was 15. Khadr was born in Toronto and requested as part of a plea-bargain that he serve out his eight-year jail term in Canada. At the time, the U.S. agreed to send him to Canada by the end of October.

A 2010 courtroom sketch of Omar Khadr

But Khadr isn’t going anywhere. The U.S. has not certified Canada as a place where terrorists can be safely held, under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, passed annually to fund U.S. defense spending. The 2011 version, passed in December 2010, added restrictions on releasing terrorists unless the defense secretary certifies that a prisoner won’t return to committing acts of terrorism. In part because of this act, almost no prisoners have left Guantanamo this year, the Washington Post reported. The Post said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was expected to certify Canada, but implied he may wait until the restrictions expire at the end of this year.  It is unclear whether the restrictions will remain in 2012’s Defense Authorization Act. The Act also specifies that U.S. taxpayer money cannot fund the transfer of a prisoner like Khadr, and Al Arabiya cited sources as saying that neither the U.S nor Canada wants to pay for the transfer.

One of Khadr’s lawyers, John Norris, told Toronto’s Globe and Mail that “we’re satisfied that Canada is working on this.” Ultimately, though, the U.S. has to give Canada its seal of approval, both from Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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