Canada apologizes to ex-Guantanamo inmate, admits role in abuse

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada on Friday formally apologized to a Canadian man held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, for a decade and said it had reached a financial settlement with him, acknowledging officials had played a role in the abuse he suffered.

FILE PHOTO: Omar Khadr smiles as he answers questions during a news conference after being released on bail in Edmonton, Alberta, May 7, 2015. Khadr, a Canadian, was once the youngest prisoner held on terror charges at Guantanamo Bay. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber/File Photo

The deal with Omar Khadr marks the fifth time the Canadian government has settled with citizens who were detained abroad following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. All five blamed Canadian law enforcement and security forces for being complicit in their suffering.

In 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court said Canada had breached Khadr’s rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him in Guantanamo and sharing the results with the United States.

“There are serious costs when the government violates the rights of its citizens,” Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said at a news conference.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan after a firefight with U.S. soldiers. He spent a decade at the U.S. military base on the eastern tip of Cuba, which came to be used as a prison for terrorism suspects rounded up overseas following the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Khadr pleaded guilty to killing a U.S. Army medic and became the youngest inmate held at Guantanamo Bay. He later recanted and his lawyers said he had been grossly mistreated.

The settlement marks the end of a C$20 million ($15.55 million) civil suit Khadr filed against the Canadian government. Sources close to the case said this week he would receive C$10.5 million.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said reaching a settlement was the only sensible course, given the court’s ruling that officials had engaged in wrongdoing.

Critics say law enforcement and security officials took short cuts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that resulted in a slew of abuses.

Khadr welcomed the deal, telling the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, “It restores a little bit my reputation here in Canada and I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”

Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative party, said the deal was “not just wrong but disgusting” and called on Khadr to give the money to the widow of the U.S. medic.

Trudeau’s Liberals took power in 2015, and moved to give legislators more oversight of law enforcement and security agencies. The government wants to create the post of intelligence commissioner to examine requests by agencies to gather information abroad.

Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International’s Canadian wing, said it was an open question whether the reforms could prevent Khadr’s case from happening again.

“One of the reasons why settlement is so important ... is that it does ... make some headway against impunity and guard against future repetition,” he said by phone.

The Conservatives, who were in office from 2006 to 2015, described Khadr as dangerous and resisted calls to press the United States for leniency.

Paul Champ, one of Khadr’s first lawyers, said it was not clear whether those responsible in Canada’s national police force and spy agency had really learned their lesson.

“Canadian officials have resisted responsibility and accountability for so long that I fear many ... will view this as a political settlement rather than a true repudiation and sanction for their conduct,” he said by e-mail.

($1 = 1.2871 Canadian dollars)

Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish and Bill Trott