It appears that Omar Khadr’s incarceration in Guantanamo Bay may be coming to an end. The self-professed Canadian jihadi accepted a deal earlier this week. He pled guilty to charges that include murder and supporting terrorism in exchange for a reported prison sentence of eight years. On Tuesday, the US military commission released its “Stipulation of Fact“, a document that Khadr signed outlining all of his involvement with al Qaeda and terrorism in the years and months leading up to his 2002 capture by US forces in Afghanistan.
Canadians should take note. In signing the document, Khadr acknowledges, once and for all, that he had a personal relationship with senior al Qaeda leaders (including Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and Muhammad Atef); that as a 15-year-old, he trained in various al Qaeda camps and received one-on-one private sessions on how to use rocket propelled grenades, assault rifles, pistols, and explosives; that he learned “the rules of Jihad” and agreed “that every Muslim in the world should fight the non-believers”; that he believed that Jews “should be killed” and shared al Qaeda’s goals to “target and kill all Americans, whether civilian or military”; that he “served as a translator” between members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al Qaeda, and other foreign fighters; that he “considered himself to be an active member of al Qaeda”; that he freely joined an al Qaeda “explosive cell” tasked with constructing and planting IEDs to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan; that he himself took part in “converting” landmines and other explosives into IEDS and planted them on roads travelled by coalition vehicles; and that in his final firefight with US and Afghan forces in July 2002, he repeatedly and voluntarily ignored opportunities given to him to surrender or accompany the women and children out of the besieged al Qaeda compound, chose instead to die fighting alongside the other al Qaeda operatives, threw the grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer and nearly blinded Sergeant First Class Layne Morris, and “felt happy” and “good” when he later learned that he had in fact killed an American.
What happens next has yet to be publicly confirmed but it seems evident that as part of Khadr’s plea deal he’s likely to spend the bulk of his remaining sentence in a Canadian prison. Media reports suggest that Khadr will be transferred from the US detention facility in Cuba to Canada sometime in 2011.
That should worry Canadians. According to testimony given on Tuesday by the prosecution’s forensic psychiatrist, Michael Welner, Khadr remains a dangerous, unrepentant, and angry young radical. While Khadr’s defence team is sure to offer competing claims when its own psychiatrists and psychologists take the stand, Canadians should nonetheless keep Welner’s testimony in mind when we contemplate what it might mean to have Khadr incarcerated in Canada.
While in Guantanamo, Khadr became a “leader among prisoners“, a charismatic individual who led prisoners in prayer. Because of his notoriety, his family lineage, his relationship with senior al Qaeda leaders, his experience fighting in Afghanistan, and his role in the death of an American, Khadr, Dr. Welner asserted, “is the rock start at Gitmo.” Not just a rock star, mind you, but the rock star.
And now he’ll be our rock star.
We’ve only recently begun incarcerating our own, homegrown Canadian terrorists and we’ve barely begun thinking about issues like prison radicalization, terrorist recruitment behind bars, deradicalization, and terrorist rehabilitation. And now we might have to deal with a charismatic, ambitious, experienced, and self-confessed member of al Qaeda. As I noted in a report on prison radicalization recently published with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, while imprisoning terrorists is an absolute necessity it can lead to a series of novel and unexpected security challenges.
If it wasn’t already past time for Canadians to start thinking about the security risks associated with imprisoning terrorists, Khadr’s expected arrival certainly drives the point home.
Posted by Alex Wilner