OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, which allowed Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr to be transferred to a prison in his homeland months earlier than expected, did so after pressure from the United States, Foreign Minister John Baird said on Sunday.
Baird declined to comment on reports an angry Washington had insisted on Khadr’s quick return after someone in Canada leaked a secret U.S. report on him.
Khadr, 26, the youngest prisoner and last Westerner held in the Guantanamo military base, was sent back to Canada on Saturday to finish his sentence. He was 15 years old when captured in Afghanistan and later confessed to killing a U.S. soldier and conspiring with al Qaeda.
Khadr’s arrival in Canada was a major surprise since Public Safety Minister Vic Toews indicated as recently as September 14 that Khadr was unlikely to return before January.
Asked whether the United States had put pressure on Canada to accept Khadr now, Baird told CTV: “Yes ... obviously the Americans are closing down the prison and wanted to send him back and under law, Canadian law, we’re pretty obliged to take him.”
Khadr, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to murdering a U.S. army medic with a grenade in a Afghan firefight in 2002, applied for a transfer to Canada in April.
Toews, who was responsible for handling the application, requested a copy of a videotaped interview a U.S. psychiatrist had done with Khadr in Guantanamo.
Shortly after the video was delivered to Ottawa, a Canadian news magazine published extensive excerpts. U.S. officials expressed anger, with an aide to President Barack Obama telling the Toronto Star the leak was “a breach of trust.”
Toews said he had no idea who had leaked the transcript. Baird did not answer directly when asked about U.S. anger over the incident.
“We have strong relation(s). They won’t be deeply affected by anything of the sort,” he said.
Canada’s ruling right-of-center Conservatives have little time for Khadr and regularly dismissed critics who said he had been a child soldier in Afghanistan and therefore needed to be rehabilitated rather than punished.
Khadr, who complained he had been tortured in Guantanamo, was taken to Afghanistan by his father, a senior al Qaeda member, who died in 2003 in a clash with Pakistani forces.
Toews said on Saturday he was worried that Khadr had become radicalized by his experiences and still idealized his father.
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 Qaeda conspirator.
He is now in the Millhaven maximum-security prison in the central province of Ontario and can apply for parole next year.
John Norris, one of Khadr’s lawyers, said his client would not pose Canadian authorities any problems.
“He has been a model inmate in Guantanamo. And I‘m pretty I would not have been a model inmate in Guantanamo. It’s a desperately horrible place, yet he has managed there and has impressed many people there,” Norris told CTV on Sunday.
“The government has propagated a real stereotype of Omar. It’s a caricature. It is not the real Omar Khadr,” said Norris, who has yet to see Khadr.
The Khadr case was an irritant to Canada and the United States, who share a long border and have the world’s largest trading relationship.
Bilateral ties cooled in January when Obama put off a decision on approving an oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the move and later announced Canada needed to sell more of its crude to Asian markets. (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Trott)