As the United States gets ready to arraign Abdul Rahim Al Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, his fellow Guantanamo inmate who pleaded guilty to committing war crimes remains in detention at the base even though he has fulfilled the Guantanamo prison portion of his deal.
According to the deal signed last year between Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was 15 when he was arrested in a firefight in Afghanistan, and the U.S. government, Khadr would plead guilty to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Khost in 2002; in return, he would became eligible for transfer to Canada a year later to serve the rest of his eight-year sentence in accordance with Canadian law.
Now, a year and a week have passed and Khadr is still in Guantanamo, and his transfer does not appear to be imminent.
A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration was hamstrung by congressional legislation that severely limits the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to foreign countries.
“Our hands are tied because we can’t transfer Guantanamo inmates, regardless of whether they fulfilled their sentence or not. He is still considered a threat to our national security and that of our allies.”
A funding bill passed by Congress, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, does not allow the transfer of detainees unless the U.S. secretary of defense personally certifies that the transfer is in the national interest of the United States and only after he is given assurances that the detainee no longer presents a threat. The bill also prohibits the use of U.S. funds to facilitate the transfer, which would mean they couldn’t provide a plane to send him to Canada. The only exception would be a judge’s order forcing the government to release a detainee.
Attorneys for Al Nashiri, who is to be arraigned Wednesday in a military court on the base, have also complained that their client – who faces the death penalty – could be detained for the rest of his life at Guantanamo, regardless of whether he is found innocent or guilty.
When reached for comment, Khadr’s military attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, issued a statement saying, “Omar Khadr has fulfilled every provision of his pretrial agreement, including serving an additional year at Guantanamo. It is now time for the United States to honor its promise to Omar Khadr by returning him to Canada immediately.”
According to a military source, Khadr’s lawyers have repeatedly requested information from the White House, State Department, and the Department of Defense about the transfer, but none has been provided.
The Pentagon did not provide comment for this story by press time. The Canadian Embassy in Washington directed Al Arabiya’s requests to the Foreign Ministry in Ottawa, which was unresponsive.
The U.S. government source said “Canada doesn’t want him, we’re not going to fly him, it might need to be some benevolent NGO with a jet to fly him out.”
(Muna Shikaki is a correspondent for Al Arabiya in Washington, D.C. Follow her on twitter @munashik)