Why is Vic Toews delaying Omar Khadr's return to Canada?

A military officer and licensed psychologist involved in the assessment of Omar Khadr says that others tasked with gauging his mental state were "not basically qualified."

Reached at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas, Alan Hopewell dismissed the views of other psychologists including the controversial psychiatrist who has said that Khadr remains a threat to public safety.

"The other people involved are not military officers; they're not qualified to make a military opinion," he said in a phone interview. "They were not basically qualified to make the opinions that they made and I'm not able to comment because of the classified nature of the government information."

It was widely reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews requested unedited and uncensored copies of interviews conducted by both Hopewell and Michael Welner. Welner's views of Khadr as a continued threat to public safety have spurred controversy, and have been discredited by other  who spent time with Khadr including Stephen Xenakis, himself a former senior military officer.

Xenakis offered a diametrically different view of Khadr as "peaceful" and determined that he was not a threat to national security. That's in line with another assessment by Katherine Porterfield, a New-York based psychologist who spent 250 hours with Khadr, who also went on the record to conclude that he showed a "lack of anger and lack of ideologically-based anti-Western beliefs."

Hopewell's assessment would offer one more take as to Khadr's mental state as of 2010 when the interviews reportedly took place.

However, Hopewell said for the time being his name should not have been made public at all. "The people who put it on the public record don't have the authority to do that and I can't comment on that."

He said he would only reconsider speaking further if the information was declassified, which he says he does not foresee happening.

Khadr was due to be transferred back to Canada last fall as part of a 2010 plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to the murder of U.S. Delta Force soldier and medic Christopher Speer (the legal proceedings which led to that final outcome were discredited by legal jurists and human rights activists both sides of the border). At the time of the deal, the Canadian government indicated it was “inclined to favourably consider” his transfer. However, the Public Safety Minister has yet to give formal approval for his return to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Lawyers for Khadr have asked a federal court to force the Canadian government to make a decision. Toews has said he is waiting to see the taped interviews.

Khadr, who was 15 at the time of his capture by the American government, is the only remaining Western national at Guantanamo Bay.


An earlier version of this article was published in Prism Magazine and it is published here with permission.

Amira Elghawaby is a freelance journalist and teacher living in Ottawa, and a contributing editor with rabble.ca. She has produced work for a variety of media, including the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Middle East Times, and CBC-Radio


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