Obama's Canada trip is a perfect opportunity to repatriate Omar Khadr.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Feb. 18 2009 7:16 PM

Welcome Back Khadr?

Obama's Canada trip is a perfect opportunity to repatriate Gitmo's youngest detainee.

President Barack Obama. Click image to expand.
Will President Obama seek to free Omar Khadr?

Welcome to Ottawa, Mr. President. While you're in town, here's hoping you can find some time to catch a Sens game, take a twirl on the Rideau Canal, and scarf down a big old gooey mountain of poutine. Be sure to take the opportunity to rib Canadians—who travel to work seven months a year by scaling 40-meter snow banks—for lacking your "flinty Chicago toughness." But mostly, thank you so much, Mr. President, for reinstating the traditional First Presidential Visit to Canada. (President George W. Bush ditched us for Mexico in 2001. And look how well that turned out.) It means a lot to your funny northern friends with the great shoes.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

There's a lot of speculation out there about whether President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will discuss Omar Khadr on this visit. Khadr is the 22-year-old Canadian (and only remaining Westerner) at Guantanamo Bay. He was 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan for allegedly throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. Khadr is the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo and has been there more than six years, the first few of which he had no access to a lawyer. His military trial, on charges including murder, spying, conspiracy, and providing support to terrorism, was paused indefinitely last month when Obama put a halt to all the military tribunals there, pending a review of the charges against the 245 men still held at the camp.


Since Obama has ordered the camp shuttered, the need to do something with the remaining prisoners has only grown more urgent. Harper has consistently refused to repatriate Khadr, despite strong opposition from the United Nations, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups. Harper has steadfastly insisted that President George W. Bush was entitled to hold Khadr at Gitmo and exhaust the judicial processes against him (even when those processes failed to materialize). The outcry against Harper's policy grew even louder last week when Canada's three opposition leaders—whose respective parties commanded 55 percent of the popular vote last election—signed a joint letter asking Obama to ship Khadr home.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch also sent a letter to Harper asking that Khadr be repatriated and requesting that a group of Chinese Uighurs, who have been cleared for release for years but still lack a place to go, be permitted to live in Canada, where church groups have agreed to act as sponsors.

The Uighur issue becomes even more critical today because a federal appeals court panel just struck down an order that would have released them into the United States. Judge Raymond Randolph wrote that the court had no authority to create its own immigration rules and took heart in the fact that "the government has represented that it is continuing diplomatic attempts to find an appropriate country willing to admit petitioners, and we have no reason to doubt that it is doing so." So tick-tock, Mr. President. Let's find those Uighurs a home.

Certainly, everyone who has a client at Guantanamo feels their case is special, and even some Canadians have taken the position that there's nothing unique about Khadr's situation that requires fast-tracking him out of the camp. But there are good reasons for Obama to announce that Khadr will be repatriated tomorrow, even as he picks his way through the harder questions about state secrets, rendition, and indefinite detention.


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