Sentenced: Guantánamo detainee likely to serve eight years maximum

A military jury sentenced Omar Khadr, the youngest Guantánamo detainee, to 40 years prison. But an earlier plea agreement means he is expected to serve no more than eight.

Janet Hamlin/AP
Omar Khadr (front l.) stands with his defense team as his verdict is read at Camp Justice on Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba, on Oct. 31.

The youngest detainee at the Guantánamo terror prison camp has been sentenced by a military jury to 40 years in prison, but he is expected to serve no more than eight years under an earlier plea agreement.

Omar Khadr, who was captured in Afghanistan at age 15, pleaded guilty last week to murdering a US soldier when he threw a hand grenade during a 2002 firefight. He also pleaded guilty to making and planting improvised explosive devices and to conducting surveillance of US convoy movements for Al Qaeda.

Under his plea deal, Mr. Khadr is to serve an additional year at Guantánamo and then be transferred to Canada to serve the remaining seven years of his sentence.

Despite the plea deal, the military commission at Guantánamo moved forward with a week-long sentencing hearing that ended Sunday with announcement of the 40-year sentence. The seven-member jury was not told of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors urged the jury to sentence the Guantánamo detainee to 25 years in prison. If the jury decided on a sentence lower than eight years, the sentence in Khadr’s plea deal would have been reduced.

In the end, with the agreement in place, the 40-year sentence is a reflection of the jury’s view of appropriate punishment, but it is not binding.

In addition to the issue of punishment for Khadr, the sentencing hearing focused on whether the young man would be dangerous if released.

Khadr has spent the past eight years confined at the detention camp at the US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under the plea agreement, he’ll be 32 at the conclusion of his sentence. Under the military jury’s sentence, he would not win his freedom until his 50s or 60s.

Urging a longer sentence, prosecutors suggested his extended confinement at Guantánamo may have radicalized him. Defense counsel countered that he was no threat to the public.

Tabitha Speer, widow of US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, urged the jury to ignore Khadr’s young age at the time her husband was killed. “Everyone wants to say he’s the child, he’s the victim,” she told the jury, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t see that. My children are the victims.”

She also spoke directly to Khadr. “My husband was a good man,” she said. “You will forever be a murderer in my eyes.”

Defense counsel argued that Khadr should receive a lenient sentence because he was so young at the time of his capture. He was subject to harsh conditions of confinement and repeated interrogations. At one point, an interrogator suggested that unless he cooperated and answered all questions truthfully, he would be sent to a prison where he would be raped.

“I know it does not change what I did, but I hope you will think about it when you punish me,” Khadr told the jury. “This story scared me very much and made me cry.”

Khadr also addressed Mrs. Speer during his statement. “I’m really, really sorry for the pain I caused your family,” he said.

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