Welcome Back, Khadr?
An al-Qaeda member who murdered an American medic may soon go free.

Courtroom sketch of Omar Khadr


Clifford D. May

Here’s a murder mystery for you: Why is the man who killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer likely to go free a few short months from now? A little background and a few clues may help you better understand — though probably not solve — the case.

Two years ago, a jury of senior military officers at Guantanamo Bay convicted Omar Khadr of war crimes in Afghanistan, not least of which was the murder of SFC Speer, a 28-year-old Special Forces medic. But just as the jury was deciding to hand Khadr a 40-year sentence, Pentagon prosecutors were concluding a plea bargain with Khadr’s attorneys.

“No public explanation for the deal has ever been given,” writes Ezra Levant, a well-known Canadian journalist and author of a book on Khadr. “But regardless of what the jury decided, Khadr would receive a sentence of just eight years. And he would have to serve only a single year of that sentence in U.S. custody before applying, with Washington’s blessing, to transfer to Canada.”

The Canadian government was not eager to welcome back Khadr. But Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was reportedly under intense pressure from the Obama White House. Late last month, Khadr was flown from Guantanamo to Ontario where he is now being held in a civilian prison. His lawyers are expected to ask the independent Parole Board of Canada to release him in the spring.

Self-described human-rights activists have organized a campaign to achieve that result. My colleague, Thomas Joscelyn, recently wrote: “For the worldwide left, Khadr has become a symbol of all that is supposedly wrong with America’s fight against the al Qaeda terror network. He is now, in many minds, a victim.”

Khadr’s supporters emphasize that he is a Canadian citizen and that when he killed Speer he was not yet 16 — a “child soldier.” A book on Khadr, Guantanamo’s Child, by Toronto Star national-security reporter Michelle Shephard, is a best-seller in Canada.

The fact, however, is that before Khadr was Guantanamo’s child he was al-Qaeda’s child. His father, Ahmed Khadr, was a senior member of the jihadi organization and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. An immigrant to Canada from Egypt, Ahmed Khadr moved his family to Pakistan and Afghanistan for the specific purpose of waging jihad.

In Omar Khadr’s “stipulation of fact,” his confession to the court in Gitmo, he acknowledges that he was trained by al-Qaeda in the use of “rocket propelled grenades, various assault rifles, pistols, grenades, and explosives.” American troops found videos of Khadr assembling improvised explosive devices. He has boasted that planting such IEDs was the “proudest moment” of his life.

Khadr also has acknowledged that he chose to remain in a compound with members of an “al-Qaeda explosives cell” who refused to surrender peacefully to American forces. He chose not to be among the women and children who accepted an American offer to leave the compound prior to the battle, and who were then escorted to safety by U.S. soldiers.