US NAVAL BASE AT GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — A US military tribunal has sentenced a Canadian citizen to 40 years in prison for killing a soldier in Afghanistan, but a plea deal means the former child soldier will serve up to eight years behind bars.
A seven-member military panel deliberated for nearly nine hours over a two-day period before reaching their decision on Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty on Monday to throwing a grenade that killed a US sergeant in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was just 15.
But the sentence announced Sunday was largely symbolic.
The case's military judge, US Army Colonel Patrick Parrish said that under a plea agreement, Khadr would serve one year at Guantanamo Bay and the rest in Canada, pending Ottawa's approval.
Prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Groharing had requested no fewer than 25 additional years in prison.
Khadr, now 24, became the third Guantanamo detainee to plead guilty and the fifth to face court proceedings before military commissions -- George W. Bush-era war tribunals President Barack Obama has reformed and reinstated.
He is the last Westerner held at Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base where 174 "war on terror" detainees remain.
"The world is watching," Groharing told Khadr in closing arguments Saturday. "Your sentence will send a message to Al-Qaeda and others whose aims and goals are to kill and cause chaos around the world."
Khadr, who has already spent eight years at the Guantanamo prison camp, admitted in his plea agreement to throwing the grenade that killed sergeant Christopher Speer and told his widow that he was sorry.
He pleaded guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, providing material assistance to a terrorist organization and espionage.
Born in Toronto on September 19, 1986 to a family of militants, Khadr was a beardless teenager when he was captured while severely wounded in Afghanistan. Today, he sports a sturdy physique, a tall man with a heavy beard and a scarred face.
Khadr's lead lawyer Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Jackson had asked the jury, which included three women, to take into account the time served at Guantanamo and sentence his client to two additional years in prison, rounding out his full punishment to 10 years.
"There is no deradicalization program in Guantanamo," Jackson said, recalling a psychiatrist who testified that Khadr was beyond redemption and a danger to society. "Every day he has been marinated in this jihad sauce."
Canada has denied its involvement in plea negotiations that took place in Guantanamo.
But in a diplomatic note made public Sunday, the Canadian government said it "is inclined to favourably consider Mr Khadr's application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, or such portion of the remainder of his sentence as the National Parole Board determines."
The note also states that Khadr will be able to apply for full parole following the completion of one-third of his sentence.
Khadr's Egyptian-born father was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces in October 2003.
His sister Zaynab and brother Abdullah have been investigated for alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, and another brother, Abdurahman, has admitted that he and some of his siblings were trained by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The Khadr family went to Pakistan when Omar was a child to help with reconstruction along the Pakistan-Afghan border following the withdrawal of Russian troops, according to an online family biography.
Khadr returned to Canada in 1995, going back to Pakistan the following year.
His family then lived in a compound in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he allegedly met bin Laden for the first time.
Khadr returned to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
In a heavily redacted affidavit, Khadr says he was treated brutally after his capture. He was taken, severely wounded, to a military camp in Bagram, Afghanistan, and later to Guantanamo in October 2002.
A video posted online in July 2008 shows him sobbing and begging for help as Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantanamo.
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