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NEWS STORY

Omar Khadr turned down plea deal

April 28, 2010

Toronto-born detainee would stay here – if Guantanamo’s prison remains open – or have been transferred to a U.S. federal penitentiary.

His lawyers say they will push for Khadr to return to Canada.

Khadr’s defence team would not talk about negotiations Tuesday but confirmed that they have spoken with prosecutors and were “open to any possibilities that would resolve this case.”

“Communication is ongoing, but as of right now there is no resolution,” Washington lawyer Barry Coburn told reporters.

Prosecution spokesperson Capt. David Iglesias declined to answer questions as to whether there were discussions between Khadr prosecutors and Guantanamo’s Convening Authority – the Pentagon official who could approve any such deal.

Khadr, now 23, is charged with five military commission offences, including “murder in violation of the laws of war,” for the death of Delta Force soldier Christopher Speer.

The detainee was shot and captured in Afghanistan in July 2002 and has spent nearly a third of his life at the prison here.

Khadr’s prosecution is set to become the showcase trial under the Obama administration, reportedly causing discomfort in Washington and dividing the president’s legal advisors.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted Khadr’s case in criticizing the U.S. for not applying “international standards of juvenile justice” traditionally afforded child soldiers.

Guantanamo’s Chief Prosecutor John Murphy said in an interview earlier this month that there are no age restrictions under the military commissions and if there was indeed political discomfort with the Khadr case, he had not received any pressure to make a deal.

“I have an independent duty to assess and prosecute these cases and that independence has been respected,” Murphy said.

But politics have played a role in cases here for detainees with Western citizenship following their governments’ entreaties to Washington.

Former Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks – one of three detainees tried under the Bush administration – was given a sentence of nine months to be served in Australia after pleading guilty to a charge of providing material support for terrorism.

Citing an unnamed U.S. military source confirmed what many had speculated – that the deal was reached following a meeting between former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Howard was facing re-election at the time and had been criticized for his inaction in the Hicks’ case.

But there are two main differences between the Khadr and Hicks cases – the charges and sympathy for the accused.

Hicks was accused of training in Al Qaeda-linked camps and joining the Taliban, while Khadr is accused of murder and injuring U.S. Special Forces soldiers. Soldiers involved in the firefight and Speer’s widow have said in past interviews that they want Khadr tried and sentenced.

Polls show Canadians remain divided on the Khadr case with nearly half of the population happy to have his trial left in the hands of the U.S.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently said he will not interfere in his prosecution.

Coburn said Tuesday that the Canadian government would likely be consulted on any plea offers but that they had not had contact with Ottawa.

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