Longform

Guantánamo’s Final Days: America Prepares to Shutter the Infamous Prison Camp, and Jihad Looms

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That leaves about 60 detainees to be tried, either by federal judges or in a new national security court system modeled after the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews FBI requests for wiretaps. It would give the government a place to try detainees outside the public eye, behind closed doors, at the government's leisure.

Many legal experts are opposed to the idea of creating a new court system. "It's always been a farce, this idea that you can't for some reason try these guys in federal court," says Tom Fleener, a former Navy lawyer who quit in protest last year over Guantánamo's military tribunal system.

But Benjamin Wittes, an adviser to the Justice Department's transition team, argues that while civilian trials for terrorists are the most legitimate, they can also endanger juries and judges. "I'm all for trying terrorists in federal court. Let's figure out who we can try in federal court, and when we get to the end of that list, we'll have a group left over," Wittes says. "Human rights activists are kidding themselves if they think this is going to be a small group."

Prosecution won't be easy. For instance, top officials have admitted al-Qahtani was tortured. That could call evidence into question. And it'll be difficult to prove that Khadr threw the grenades that blinded Morris and killed Speer. The military's own account of the event leaves some doubt. Another enemy fighter might have lived long enough to have tossed them. But Morris and others maintain Khadr is the only survivor — and thus the only one who can be held responsible.

In any case, Khadr's attorney, Canadian Dennis Edney, says Omar can be rehabilitated. Edney describes him as an open-minded young man who likes to read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books. According to a welfare report conducted by Canadian officials in March 2008, Khadr is a "likable, funny, and intelligent young man" who, despite limited education, six years of detention, and no rehabilitation opportunities, demonstrates "remarkable insight and self-awareness." The report concludes Khadr is "salvageable" and "non-radicalized."

"I don't think anyone really has a handle on who he is today," says Michelle Shephard, author of a book about Khadr called Guantánamo's Child. "Before he was captured, he had a close relationship with his family, but we've heard various reports that at one point he had no interest in talking to his family . . . At one point, I heard he was very devout, that he was leading prayers on the prison block; and then there's references [in the welfare report] where he's rather blasé about it.

"The only thing that's certain is that if he's released, he will need a lot of help integrating into society."

Khadr's attorney has a rehabilitation plan already in place. He wants Khadr to move in with him and enroll at nearby King's College. Edney will also assemble a team of Muslim clerics to help re-educate the young man.

Khadr's family has other plans. His mother recently said the family dreams of starting a farm upon his return. They will raise animals, she says, "far away from the pressure of the media and the pressure of the community who are so confused about our life."

Back in Salt Lake City, Layne Morris isn't buying any of it. He points out that one of Khadr's sisters has publicly advocated jihad and a brother has admitted to smuggling weapons to Al-Qaeda and plotting to kill the Pakistani prime minister. Most recently, Khadr's family showed up at a Toronto courtroom to show solidarity for a terrorist cell accused of planning to use truck bombs to blow up buildings in the city's downtown.

"People have a short attention span, I guess," Morris says. "9/11 was what, seven years ago? And already we forget about what we lost. I'm not complaining. There's so many other guys who made greater sacrifices than I have. Christopher Speer had a wife and two very young children, and that speaks for itself.

"Omar Khadr? People say he's a confused kid, but he knew exactly what he was doing. The way I see it, he should stay in jail for as long as he remains a threat to America."

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Tim Elfrink is an investigative reporter and the managing editor of Miami New Times. He's won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink
Jesse Hyde
Contact: Jesse Hyde