Omar Khadr, the first Canadian convicted of murder, spying, and terrorism and held at Guantanamo Bay, needs another first before he can go home to serve out his sentence in a Canadian prison.
Canada must first be certified as a fit place to send a convicted terrorist, a nation not likely to permit him to attack the United States, and one that has control of its prisons.
That certification must be delivered to Congress signed by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta with "the concurrence of" U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton. It's new, but hardly trivial. It's a part of the 2011 National Defence Authorization Act, the annual funding legislation for the entire U.S. military that, among other things, outlaws using U.S. taxpayer funds to airlift a Guantanamo detainee to the United States.
Mr. Khadr is a former child soldier, gravely wounded in Afghanistan during 2002, who some view as a victim rather than a war criminal. Once Canada is "certified" as an acceptable place for repatriation, a 30-day clock starts running before he can be brought home.
The Harper government has already promised the Obama administration that it is "inclined to favourably consider" Mr. Khadr's desire to serve out his remaining prison time in a Canadian jail. It was made as part of the plea-bargain deal in which Mr. Khadr admitted to murder, spying and terrorism at a U.S. military war-crimes tribunal in exchange for an eight-year sentence, of which only one year was to be spent at Guantanamo. That year ended Oct 31.
"We're satisfied that Canada is working on this," said John Norris, one of Mr. Khadr's Canadian legal team. "We think everyone should be working faster."
Mr. Norris said Mr. Khadr is aware of and "frustrated by the delays," but understands there is a process to be followed.
The "certification" step requires the Obama administration to satisfy itself, among other things, that Canada has "taken such steps as the Secretary determines are necessary to ensure that the individual cannot engage or re-engage in any terrorist activity."
Mr. Khadr, now 25, was born in Toronto but spent almost all of his life abroad; first in Pakistan as the child of a leading al-Qaeda family, followed by a brief summer learning bomb making with Islamic jihadists in Afghanistan and then, after his capture, nine years in prisons in Bagram and Guantanamo.
Sentenced to 40 years by a military jury that was unaware of the plea deal, Mr. Khadr may be eligible under Canadian law for release in July, 2013, after serving one-third of his eight-year agreed sentence.