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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is infringing the rights of Omar Khadr, a young Canadian imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, but is not obliged to ask the United States to repatriate him, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The judgment is a victory for the minority Conservative government, which had contested lower court rulings that ordered Ottawa to help Khadr because his rights under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been breached.
Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. medic in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 at the age of 15. He is the only citizen of a western nation still imprisoned at Guantanamo.
"We conclude that the order made by the lower courts that the government request Mr Khadr's return to Canada is not an appropriate remedy for that breach," the Supreme Court said.
The Conservative government has for years shrugged off pressure to intervene on Khadr's behalf on the grounds that he faces serious charges. Khadr is due to be tried by a special U.S. military commission later this year.
In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the court said Ottawa was better placed to make decisions under the power granted it by the Canadian constitution and suggested that Canada-U.S. relations could be damaged by a request for Khadr's return.
"It would not be appropriate for the Court to give direction as to the diplomatic steps necessary to address the breaches of Mr Khadr's Charter rights," it said.
The judges said Canada breached Khadr's rights by sending intelligence agents to interrogate him in Guantanamo Bay in 2003 and 2004 and sharing the results with the United States. Khadr's continuing detention meant his rights were still being infringed, the judges ruled.
They said the agents questioned a youth who did not have access to a lawyer and had been mistreated. U.S. agents deprived Khadr of sleep for three weeks before one session.
"Interrogation of a youth ... knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the U.S. prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects. We conclude that Mr Khadr has established that Canada violated his rights," the ruling said.
Khadr's continuing detention meant his rights were still being infringed, the judges ruled.
Opposition legislators and other critics say Canada should press for the Khadr's release on the grounds that he was a child soldier when the alleged killing took place.
"I'm disappointed ... We saw this as a decision that's all about protecting human rights. it's not about intruding into foreign policy," said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.
Khadr was born in Canada, but he is from a family that lived mostly in Pakistan and had close ties to al Qaeda -- at one time staying in Osama bin Laden's Afghan compound.
Reporting by David Ljunggren