GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVY BASE, Cuba — Omar Khadr is an admitted murderer and al-Qaida terrorist who manufactured and planted roadside bombs in Afghanistan.
And Khadr very likely will be returning to Canada in a year to serve out most of his still secret sentence.
He pleaded guilty to all five of the charges facing him here Monday as part of a plea bargain that will see him return to Canada after serving one more year in U.S. custody.
Canada’s diplomatic note — delivered here Sunday and included as part of the deal — was a key factor for Khadr agreeing to the deal and convinced one of Harper’s most skeptical critics Canada will let him serve his time in Canada.
“Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty this morning ... in exchange for the Canadian government agreeing to repatriate him back to Canada after one year,” said Dennis Edney, one of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers. “Canada’s language (in the diplomatic note) is sufficiently satisfactory to hold Canada to its position.”
The diplomatic note and the details of the deal will be released publicly later this week, although reports suggest the agreed-to sentence is for eight years, with the last seven to be served in Canada.
The prosecution in Khadr’s case said his admission of guilt puts to rest criticisms of the U.S. government for trying Khadr as a war criminal, and a guilty plea was more important than putting Khadr behind bars for life.
“Omar Khadr stands convicted of being a murderer, and also an al-Qaida terrorist. The evidence ... came from a source that the law recognizes as the most powerful evidence known to the law, and that is his own words,” said U.S. Navy Capt. John Murphy, chief prosecutor for the office of military commissions. “What you saw puts a lie to the long-standing argument by some that Omar Khadr is a victim.
“He’s not. He’s a murderer, and he is convicted by the strength of his own words.”
Khadr, wearing a dark suit and sporting a trimmed but full beard, hung his head low in the military courtroom and softly repeated “yes” as military judge Col. Pat Parrish painstakingly read off Khadr’s crimes and asked the Canadian to agree.
Parrish accepted Khadr’s guilty pleas to murder, attempted murder, supporting terrorism, spying and conspiracy.
The specifics of the deal and the sentence won’t be released until after the seven-member military jury hands down a sentence of their own following a hearing that’s expected to last several days.
Whichever sentence is less — the plea bargain’s or the jury’s — will apply.
Tabitha Speer, the widow of the U.S. Special Forces soldier Khadr fatally wounded with a grenade in a July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, was in court Monday for Khadr’s guilty plea and, while sometimes tearing up, clutched her sister’s hand throughout the proceedings.
She will read a victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing, at which mental-health experts will debate Khadr’s age at the time of his crimes as a factor in sentencing.
Edney said pleading guilty was a “very, very difficult” decision for Khadr.
“Mr. Khadr was put into a hellish conflict ... whether to subject himself to a process that is not legal or go home,” Edney said, adding he and Khadr’s other Canadian lawyer Nathan Whitling think Khadr’s guilt is “fiction.
“In our view, Mr. Khadr is innocent.”
Khadr, now 24, was taken into U.S. custody when he was 15, following the 2002 firefight. He’s been held here since October of the same year.