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Politics Omar Khadr’s lawyers appeal to Ottawa for Gitmo transfer

In a courtroom sketch, Canadian detainee Omar Khadr listens the taped testimony of Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the former top military legal adviser at the detention center, played upon request by the military jury right before they announced their verdict, near the end of his sentence trial at Camp Justice, in Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Sunday Oct. 31, 2010.

Janet Hamlin/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The United States is growing frustrated at Canada's reluctance to follow through on a plea bargain deal and ask for convicted war criminal Omar Khadr to be brought back to Canada, a U.S. military defence lawyer says.

Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson, Mr. Khadr's lead U.S. military lawyer, described the frustration of American officials that he's spoken with over why Canada has not formally requested that Mr. Khadr be transferred to Canada from his U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Lt.-Col. Jackson was one of four lawyers for Mr. Khadr — one of two to wear U.S. military uniforms — who made an impassioned plea for the return of the last Western national to held at the much-maligned U.S. military prison.

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So far, their request continues to fall on deaf ears in Ottawa, which has yet to formally ask the U.S. for Mr. Khadr's return.

Mr. Khadr poses no threat to Canada, his lawyers argued. He has not been ground down by his decade of incarceration and has resisted the lure of Islamic fundamentalism.

Instead, the Toronto-born man is biding his time studying behind bars, in an attempt to one day be able to restart his life and become a contributing, peaceful member of society, said Lt.-Col. Jackson.

He has learned to sing "O Canada," has studied mathematics and constitutional law, read Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," and has even drawn a lesson of hope from reading the post-apocalyptic novel, "The Road," said Lt.-Col. Jackson.

Mr. Khadr's legal team broke its silence and spoke candidly about their client in an attempt to prod Canada to honour a deal that would see him brought back to Canada.

"There's a great deal of frustration on the U.S. side," said Lt.-Col. Jackson. "The U.S. is basically saying: approve this transfer so we can make it happen."

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta signed off of Mr. Khadr's transfer in April, he added.

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Meetings on the logistics of Mr. Khadr's possible transfer between the two countries have now stopped, and senior U.S. officials are privately questioning why the Harper government hasn't formally made a request to bring him home, said Lt.-Col. Jackson.

Mr. Khadr, 25, was eligible for transfer back to Canada last October.

He pleaded guilty in October 2010 to war crimes committed in Afghanistan in 2002 as a 15-year-old, including murder in violation of the rules of war.

Mr. Khadr was sentenced to eight years, with one year to be served in Guantanamo Bay, by a military tribunal that has faced criticism across the globe.

Mr. Khadr would not be a free man upon return to Canada. Corrections Canada would assess where he would serve the remainder of his sentence, said Mr. Khadr's lead Canadian lawyer John Norris.

Mr. Norris said he might have to consider further legal action to force Ottawa to live up to its agreement.

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"The conduct of the Canadian government is unconscionable," he said.

Mr. Norris noted that former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon has confirmed in the House of Commons that Canada would honour its agreement with the United States.

Liberal Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a longtime advocate for child soldiers, joined Mr. Khadr's lawyers in making the plea, and said he once again planned to raise the case during the Senate's final question period.

"I will once again ask the government: what's the holdup?" said Mr. Dallaire.

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