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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama to sign order to close Guantanamo within 1 year: aide

No change in Canada's position on Omar Khadr: PMO
This sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows (from top) Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al Baluchi.This sketch by court artist Janet Hamlin shows (from top) Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, also known as Ammar al Baluchi. (Janet Hamlin/Pool/CBC)

U.S. President Barack Obama will sign an executive order Thursday to shut down the infamous U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year.

A draft of the order was obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press. While the draft was not dated, a senior Obama aide said the president intends to sign the order on Thursday.

"In view of the significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo and closure of the facility would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice," the draft order said.

Between 60 and 120 prisoners at the prison camp, which currently houses 245 detainees, may be deemed low-threat and transferred to other countries for rehabilitation or release, an administration official said Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, a 120-day adjournment was granted for all war-crimes cases before the military commission, including that of Canadian Omar Khadr.

In this sketch by a courtroom artist, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr attends a hearing Monday at the U.S. military commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In this sketch by a courtroom artist, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr attends a hearing Monday at the U.S. military commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Janet Hamlin/Pool/Associated Press)

A closure of the prison facility would pave the way for Khadr, 22, to be repatriated to Canada, potentially to undergo judicial process here. The Prime Minister's Office, however, downplayed suggestions that it is re-considering the government's long-held position not to intervene in the case.

The Conservative government's position on the Khadr case hasn't changed from that of previous Liberal governments that were in power when Khadr was first detained in 2002, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Kory Teneycke, said Wednesday.

"Our position is that the determination of his guilt or innocence on those charges needs to take place in a court of some fashion, and that we will wait for the outcome of a judicial process before looking at what the other options are," Teneycke told CBC News on Wednesday from Ottawa.

His comments came after Defence Minister Peter MacKay suggested the government was reconsidering its position after U.S. President Barack Obama stated "very clearly" to military commission judges that the proceedings were to be suspended.

"Clearly, Canada and Mr. Khadr’s counsel and everyone involved in these cases will be reassessing their positions," MacKay told reporters in Ottawa.

MacKay added, however, that the question of whether Canada would ask for U.S. officials to repatriate Khadr should be answered by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

Teneycke said MacKay was likely trying to say that the government was "watching very closely what is happening in the U.S., and [that] we'll react to changes when they occur."

He also refused to speculate on whether Khadr could face a judicial process in Canada, saying it was "exactly the hypothetical question that we're really not going to engage in at this time."

"The fact that the situation may change at some point in the future doesn't mean that it's changed today," Teneycke said.

Khadr, who is the only Westerner remaining in detention at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, is accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15.

Harper has remained firm on his position not to intervene in the Toronto-born Khadr's case, insisting the U.S. judicial process must take its course.

Guantanamo a 'disgrace': Ignatieff

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on Wednesday reiterated his call for the Harper government to get involved in the case.

"Our party has said for a year that Canada has to repatriate Khadr, and that we have to close Guantanamo," Ignatieff said in French at a news conference in Montreal. "I love the United States, but Guantanamo is a disgrace."

Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, Khadr's military-appointed lawyer, told CBC News the adjournment should hasten the return of Khadr to Canada, and that the prime minister can no longer "hide behind" the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay.

"There is now no excuse, no reason whatsoever, for the prime minister not to do what really in our view has always been the right thing and intervene and get Omar Khadr, this Canadian citizen, back to Canada for the help and support that he needs," Kuebler said.

The halt of proceedings by Col. Patrick Parrish, the U.S. military judge overseeing Khadr's case, came Wednesday at the request of Obama, who has stated his desire to end the military commissions process and close the prison and sought the temporary adjournment while his administration decided on permanent measures.

The adjournment does not withdraw the charges against Khadr or expunge any evidence presented against him at this week's pretrial hearings, the CBC's Susan Ormiston reported from Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr's defence team had wanted Parrish to stay the charges, but did not oppose the prosecution motion to suspend the proceedings.

Khadr is accused of:

  • Murder in violation of the law of war.
  • Attempted murder in violation of the law of war.
  • Conspiracy.
  • Providing material support for terrorism.
  • Spying.

His legal team has said evidence presented against him was coerced through aggressive interrogation, as well as torture.

Trial of 9/11 co-accused also halted

Just hours after Khadr's case was adjourned, another military judge also halted proceedings in the separate death penalty case of the five accused conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, despite the delay being opposed by the accused, who have all expressed a desire to plead guilty and achieve "martyrdom."

"We should continue so we don't go backward, we go forward," Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks, told the judge, Col. Stephen Henley, ahead of his ruling on Wednesday.

The CIA has admitted to subjecting Mohammed to waterboarding, or drowning and resuscitation, a practice legal experts, human rights groups and even some within the military commission process set up by former president George W. Bush have condemned as torture.

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who were at the base this week to observe pretrial hearings, told reporters they oppose any halt to the trials.

"The safest place to have these trials is Guantanamo Bay. If they were to move to the homeland it would endanger all of us," said Lorraine Arias Believeau of Barnegat, N.J., whose brother, Adam, was killed in the attacks.

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press