Omar Khadr was sentenced to a symbolic forty years in Guantánamo Bay prison on Sunday, although the 24-year-old Canadian will only serve eight years, as per the terms of a plea bargain negotiated last week.
The conviction concludes the first ever trial of a child soldier accused of war crimes since the Nuremberg hearings after the Second World War, and the first trial of a terrorism suspect by the Obama-led military commissions.
Khadr pled guilty last Monday to the murder of Sergeant Christopher Speer, an American medic killed in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. In exchange for his guilty plea, Khadr was offered a sentence of eight years in prison, and permission to apply for transfer to Canada after one year.
In a statement released to 28 journalists, The Daily among them, Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney said that justice had not been served.
“The fact that the trial of a child soldier, Omar Khadr, has ended with a guilty plea in exchange for his eventual release to Canada does not change the fact that fundamental principles of law and due process were long since abandoned in Omar’s case,” Edney wrote.
“We may choose to believe that through his plea Omar finally came clean and accepted his involvement in a firefight when he was 15 years of age, or that this was one final coerced confession from a victimized young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time because his father placed him there,” said Edney.
The plea agreement limited the number of witnesses Khadr’s defense could call to four individuals, while the prosecution was able to call ten witnesses to the stand. Moreover, the commission judge refused to recognize Khadr’s status as a child soldier, although he was only 15 at the time of arrest.
Finally, the commission did not permit evidence that Khadr had been threatened with murder and rape while being interrogated by U.S. officials, although the incriminating statements elicited from Khadr while “under duress,” and without the presence of a lawyer, were accepted.
Nathan Whitling, another lawyer for Khadr, called the forty-year sentence “astonishing,” particularly because the prosecution had only asked for Khadr to be sentenced to 25 years.
“To hear the [military jury] come down to that forty number was quite shocking. We knew that number didn’t mean anything, because there is a deal in place that will ensure Omar will serve only eight,” said Whitling.
“These people on the panel were all soldiers, and Sergeant Speer was one of their own. … In that sense, it is no surprise at all that there was such a harsh sentence,” added Whitling.
Though the Canadian government has stated that it was not involved in negotiating the plea agreement, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon confirmed on Monday that Khadr would be permitted to apply for transfer in one years’ time.
According to Whitling, Khadr’s defense team will seek his release as soon as possible following Khadr’s return to Canada. Khadr’s lawyers will focus on the parole process since the International Transfer of Offenders Act does not permit Khadr to challenge his foreign conviction.