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Omar Khadr boots longtime Canadian lawyers

Convicted war criminal Omar Khadr stunned his longtime Canadian lawyers on Thursday by giving them the boot just months before he is due to be repatriated to Canada from Guantanamo Bay.

For years, Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling championed Mr. Khadr's cause, fighting protracted and successful legal battles on his behalf in Canada.

His decision to fire them took both men by surprise.

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"I have no idea what pressures are being placed on Omar Khadr in Guantanamo to make that decision," Mr. Edney told The Canadian Press.

"I presume he made the decision with full information and Nate and I wish him all the best."

Neither Mr. Edney nor Mr. Whitling, both based out of Edmonton, would speculate as to why Mr. Khadr had sent a signed direction appointing Toronto-based lawyers John Norris and Brydie Bethell to represent him.

The Toronto-born Mr. Khadr, 24, was convicted last October by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay after pleading guilty to war crimes he committed as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.

As part of the plea deal, he is due to be returned to Canada this fall to serve out the remainder of the eight-year term he was handed.

Mr. Edney has been fiercely critical of how Mr. Khadr's Pentagon-appointed lawyer Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Jackson handled the military commission trial and the defence psychologists who ultimately did not testify.

He has also complained that authorities have continued to interrogate Mr. Khadr in prison.

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A source close to the situation said it appeared Lt.-Col. Jackson had put pressure on Mr. Khadr to get rid of Mr. Edney.

Lt.-Col. Jackson said he was unable to comment.

The decision left Mr. Edney, who had previously offered to have Mr. Khadr come live with him after his release and often referred to him in familial terms, distraught.

Both Mr. Edney and Mr. Whitling have been recognized by their lawyer peers for their efforts on Mr. Khadr's behalf.

Mr. Whitling, who changed legal firms in the spring, was no longer officially acting for the Canadian citizen.

A family member also said Thursday she was unaware of the development.

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Neither Mr. Norris nor Ms. Bethell were immediately available for comment.

Mr. Norris is well known for having fought for several non-Canadians slapped with national security certificates.

Mr. Edney and Mr. Whitling won several high-profile legal battles on Mr. Khadr's behalf in Canada.

Among other things, they succeeded in having the courts declare that the federal government had violated Mr. Khadr's rights.

They also called repeatedly for the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to demand Mr. Khadr's repatriation.

Mr. Khadr has previously fired several of his American lawyers both military and civilian. He even tried to get rid of Lt.-Col. Jackson on the eve of his trial last year, but finally relented.

The Canadian citizen is the youngest and last western inmate of the U.S. prison on Guantanamo Bay.

He was captured badly injured in July 2002 in Afghanistan after a four-hour firefight in which an American special forces soldier was killed.

He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in October of that year and has been held there since. He has been essentially in solitary confinement since his conviction.

Mr. Edney and Mr. Whitling also successfully fought Ottawa's attempt to extradite Mr. Khadr's oldest brother Abdullah to the U.S. to face trial on terrorism-related charges.

The federal government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to take up the extradition case.

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