OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada said on Wednesday it would not press for the return of a young Canadian inmate held at Guantanamo Bay despite the release of video footage that showed him weeping and calling for his mother.
The film prompted mounting calls from politicians and commentators for Ottawa to intercede with Washington on behalf of 21-year-old Omar Khadr, who is charged with killing a U.S. medic in Afghanistan in July 2002 at the age of 15.
Secret video of his interrogation by Canadian agents over four days in February 2003 shows him moaning in despair and crying out for his mother.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Khadr faces serious charges and should go on trial.
“Our position has not changed and it’s not going to. We’re not going to blow in the wind on something as fundamental as this,” Harper’s chief spokesman Kory Teneycke told Reuters.
Extracts from the secret video show Khadr — then 16 — being grilled by officials from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service spy agency.
The film was released by Khadr’s lawyers, who are pushing Ottawa to intervene with Washington on his behalf.
“Making a change at the 11th hour because his legal team is pursuing an aggressive media strategy is not in the interests of due process ... We’re about doing what the right thing is,” said Teneycke.
Critics of Khadr’s treatment say he is a child soldier who should be rehabilitated rather than punished. Khadr has alleged U.S. interrogators repeatedly threatened to rape him.
The video shows Khadr in an orange prison jumpsuit. At times he buries his head in his hands or pulls at his hair in evident despair.
“I am suffering but I am holding (on) because I know there are other hundreds who are suffering like Omar and I wish I could do something,” said Khadr’s mother, Maha Elsamnah.
“If they think Omar would need rehabilitation) I would love it and I know Omar would need rehab. Omar will need somebody to reassure him that he still deserves to live,” she told OMNI television on Tuesday.
The United States is holding about 265 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in conditions which have been blasted by human rights groups.
Columnist Jonathan Kay of the right-wing National Post newspaper, a strong backer of Harper’s hard-line approach in the war on terror, said it was time for Khadr to come home.
“Millions of people (around the world) are now wondering why Canada’s government has acquiesced — and as the video shows, even participated — in the unconscionable treatment of a blubbering boy soldier,” he wrote on Wednesday.
Documents released earlier this month show U.S. authorities deprived Khadr of sleep ahead of a separate interview with an official from Canada’s foreign ministry in 2004.
U.S. sergeant Layne Morris, who was injured in the July 2002 battle that ended with Khadr’s capture, said the Canadian interrogators should have been tougher.
“I think Omar is where he belongs. I hope he stays there for a good long time ... as long as he’s a danger to either the United States or Canada or any kind of western civilization,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Khadr was taken to Afghanistan by his father Ahmed Said Khadr, an alleged al Qaeda financier and close friend of Osama bin Laden. Khadr senior was killed in a battle with Pakistani forces in 2003.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty