Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Says He Is “Ready” for Freedom; All Decent People Must Agree

7.5.15

The updated logo for the Free Omar Khadr Now campaign.UPDATE: I’m delighted to report that Justice Myra Bielby has granted Omar’s bail. “Mr. Khadr, you are free to go,” she said at the hearing today in the appeals court in Edmonton. The Toronto Star reported that Omar “broke into a big, wide smile when the decision was read. His supporters in the courtroom erupted in cheers.”

As the Guardian described it, however, “Khadr’s legal ordeal is far from over. The government has given notice that it intends to challenge the bail order itself.” Nevertheless, I believe the government needs to accept that its vindictive demonization of Omar has run its course. On June 25, Omar will go before a parole board, providing another opportunity for him to be granted his freedom.

Omar’s long-established attorney Dennis Edney, with whom he will be living, told reporters, “I intend to drive him straight home,” and added, as the Guardian put it, that “he had squeezed [his] finger and said: ‘We did it.'” His other longtime attorney, Nathan Whitling, said, “Whatever anyone may think of Mr. Khadr, he’s now served his time.”

Edney added that “he expects to hold a press conference on Friday so Khadr can address the public for the first time,” as the Guardian described it. “I look forward to Omar Khadr letting the Canadian public see who he really is, to challenge the lies of this government, who have not allowed him to be seen or to speak to you media,”  Edney said. He also said, “Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper doesn’t like Muslims. He wants to prove he’s tough on crime so who does he pick on? A 15-year-old boy.”

*****

Nearly 13 years after he was first seized after a firefight in Afghanistan at the age of 15, Omar Khadr, who is now 28, is hoping that today he will be released on bail. Two weeks ago, a judge in Alberta, Justice June Ross, granted his application for bail, which his lawyers had argued for at a hearing on March, but the government then announced its intention to appeal, even though there were no grounds for doing so.

The Canadian government has persistently treated Omar with contempt, ignoring the fact that, as a juvenile, he was not responsible for his father taking him to Afghanistan and putting him in harm’s way, ignoring their obligations and those of the US to rehabilitate child prisoners seized in wartime, and not to punish them, and refusing to accept that the plea deal he agreed to in Guantánamo was not a trustworthy admission of guilt, but an understandable route out of Guantánamo, where, otherwise, he might have been held forever.

The government also dragged its heels securing Omar’s release from Guantánamo, and then tried to defend holding him in a maximum-security prison, which prevented him from applying for bail. That disgraceful situation only came to an end last year, in part because of repeated complaints by senior prison officials.

As Justice Ross noted, Omar “has a 12½ year track record as a model prisoner, and a release plan supported by educators, mental health professionals, and his lawyers.” She also noted that his appeal against his conviction at Guantánamo, in the monstrously flawed military commission system, was “likely to succeed and keeping him in jail was not in the public interest,” as the BBC described it.

On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Ross set the conditions of Omar’s bail — he will live with his longtime lawyer, Dennis Edney, and his wife, he will have to wear an electronic tag, and he will have limited access to his family and to the internet.

However, on Tuesday morning, Justice Myra Bielby, of the appeals court in Edmonton, heard the government argue against Omar’s proposed bail, and will only decide whether to accept that appeal today, May 7.

Anyone with any decency will have to hope it is the former, because the government has no case. Not only do ministers concede that Omar has been a model prisoner throughout nearly 13 years of imprisonment, but there is no evidence to back up their claim that releasing him on bail while he is challenging his conviction in the US would somehow damage Canada’s diplomatic relations with other countries.

As the Toronto Star put it, Department of Justice lawyer Bruce Hughson “argued that releasing Khadr would cause ‘irreparable harm’ to Ottawa’s diplomatic relations with other countries looking to transfer Canadians home to serve the remainder of their sentences.” However, under cross-examination by one of Omar’s lawyers, Nathan Whitling, Lee Redpath, a senior Corrections Canada official involved with prisoner transfers, “admitted that there was no evidence that Khadr’s release would strain relations, only that the possibility existed.”

On Tuesday, the Toronto Star also reported on a psychological report about Omar, prepared by Nathan Lau, the prison psychologist at the prison in which he is currently being held, the Bowden Institution in Alberta, following an interview on February 20, which, as the Toronto Star described it, “presents the most sympathetic portrait of Khadr to date.”

“I’m ready,” Omar told Nathan Lau, speaking about his potential release, adding, “I hope that people get a chance to know the new me.”

Omar also said, “In prison, I had lots of bad experiences. If I hold on to each one, I would have been very bitter. I can’t afford to be bitter. I did something bad and I’m here for a reason. The only way to survive is to have hope. If I hope for people to give me a second chance, I should afford them the same.”

Crucially, as the Toronto Star explained, “Lau’s assessment led to Khadr’s reclassification from a medium security inmate to one that requires minimum security,” as well as providing “some of the most candid and detailed descriptions of Khadr’s past and outlook for the future.”

“If I could do things differently, I probably would have challenged my father more,” Omar told Lau, adding, “I don’t think I could have said ‘no’ to him but would have tried.”

It was Omar’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr (killed by Pakistani forces in 2003), who had taken him to Afghanistan, and who was responsible for his actions. As the article described him, he was “a charity worker with ties to Al-Qaeda’s elite,” who “shuttled Khadr and his siblings between their home in Scarborough to residences in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the 1990s.”

Speaking of the circumstances that led to his capture, Omar told Lau, “Then 9-11 happens. My dad wasn’t around and everyone freaked out.” He then, as the newspaper put it, “described the lead-up to July 27, 2002, when he was shot and captured after, it is alleged, he’d thrown a grenade that fatally wounded US Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer.”

“I’ll tell you what I thought happened,” Omar said. “I heard Americans. I heard shooting. I was scared. I had a hand grenade. I threw it over my back and it exploded. I wanted to scare them away, I wasn’t thinking of the consequences. After that I was shot.”

Omar also stated that, since his capture, he has “seen evidence that he was buried under rubble and could not have thrown the grenade,” but he explained, “I still take responsibility but hold on to hope it wasn’t me … I just hope I wasn’t the person responsible for killing someone.”

He also told Lau that he was “happy with this transfer to Canada in 2012 but had difficulty adapting to the ‘con code’ of federal penitentiaries,” as the Toronto Star put it. In his own words, he said, “It’s hard to build a relationship with the guards here. We can’t seem to be too friendly with each other. It gets me in some trouble when I refuse to abide by the con code.”

He also explained how he had to give up his job as a food server while he was held in the maximum-security Millhaven Institution in Ontario. “This guy, he thinks we are buddies and that I will give him a whole bag of butter,” Omar said. “I wouldn’t give it to him and he gets p—ed off. I talked to my Correctional Officer and just quit the job. There was too much drama.”

He also explained how later, in Edmonton, he was “punched in the face by another inmate who said his family was in the military.”

He also pointed out that he is looking forward to life outside prison, although he conceded, “I don’t think it will be a piece of cake. I’ve screwed up in the past and I’m worried it will haunt me. People will think I’m the same person I was 12 or 13 years ago. They might treat me in the same light.”

He added, “However, if I carry myself with dignity and respect, people will respect me. I hope there won’t be this terrorism nonsense. I’m not going to get involved.”

I hope these words will be the last we hear from Omar in captivity, and that later today he will be free.  As I noted in a statement I was asked to submit by the Free Omar Khadr Now campaign, “It is time for the Canadian government to abandon its shameful and unacceptable vilification of Omar, and to accept Justice Ross’s ruling.” I added that Omar should finally be “allowed to begin to rebuild his life free of a prison’s walls.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers). He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, the co-director of “We Stand With Shaker,” calling for the immediate release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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37 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Today, an appeals court judge in Alberta will decide whether or not to accept the Canadian government’s appeal against former ‪Guantanamo‬ prisoner Omar Khadr’s bail application, which was granted by a judge two weeks ago. I hope Omar walks out of prison today, as the government has no case – a verdict reinforced by a recent analysis of Omar, discussed in my article, by a prison psychologist who reclassified him from a medium- to a minimum-security inmate. Free him now, please!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:

    Good Morning, Andy. Without your contributions no one would know or be aware of any of this. Thank you so much for all you do.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, thank you, Sylvia – and good morning to you too! Omar has a lot of people working tirelessly for his release, but I will accept that I have ended up being a source of information for many people about Guantanamo-related issues, because of the general lack of 100% permanent outrage in the mainstream media regarding the prison, its continued existence, and – for the most part – the poor men held there whose lives are being sacrificed for vengeance and malevolent propaganda.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Nancy Vining Van Ness wrote:

    Thank you, Andy, for your support for Omar and all the prisoners at Guantanamo.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamal Ajouaou wrote:

    Thank you kindly Andy . if they only know the truth not only the British people will thank but all the world will say thank you ,because what happened in Guantanamo is international justice who was put to test and not only the innocent victims of Torture

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Cat Watters wrote:

    END Capitalism!!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Cris Lee wrote:

    Such a happy day 🙂

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Nancy, Jamal, Cat and Cris. Great news indeed! I’m not quite sure though, Cat, if capitalism per se was directly responsible for Omar’s nearly 13-year imprisonment!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    Yesterday, Andy hoped for Omar’s release. This is a beautiful moment. It is difficult to see how young he was when captured and how much he’s been through since. He told the Toronto Star, “I’m ready. I hope that people get a chance to know the new me. (…) However, if I carry myself with dignity and respect, people will respect me. I hope there won’t be this terrorism nonsense. I’m not going to get involved”. Good luck, Omar. You deserve it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Well put, Sarah. Such great news!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Sarah Kay wrote:

    It is, Andy! I cried when the judge said “you are free to go”. Michelle Shephard says he will provide a statement tonight from his lawyer’s house. I think it’s fantastic that he is taking him in. Omar has an entire life to build again. All the life-affirming and groundbreaking experiences one goes through as a teenager and through their twenties have to now be carried again, as if suspended in time. I hope to meet him one day, and I hope, most of all, that Shaker will soon feel the air on his skin as a free man.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I hope to meet him too, Sarah. I did an event with Dennis in London last year, which was wonderful. Such a lovely man.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Deborah Hitz wrote:

    So happy for them! Dennis Edney seems like the kind of person I would be honored to have as a friend and in my corner. Great reporting, Andy! Thank you so much!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Deborah. Yes, Dennis is a special person.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Sahida Uddin wrote:

    Words are inadequate to express my admiration for the work you have done and continue to do. You made a difference and you make a difference. The first time I attended one of your events, I remember I could not sleep, haunted by what I heard and seen. Solidarity to you and all who stand with you, who make an incredible difference.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Sahida, for the wonderful supportive words. It is always reassuring, to be honest, to hear about how my work has affected people.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Aaf Post wrote:

    O happy day!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    and posted a photo of mar walking out of the court, a free man:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=877891022287045&set=a.122474201162068.24659.100001984652406&type=1&theater

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Great news, Aaf! Great photo! I updated my article, published before the ruling this morning

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Thanks Andy.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Georgie BC wrote:

    Andy Worthington thank you as well for all of your tireless work. Shaker soon! What a summer this could be!

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Djamel Ameziane wrote:

    It’s a great news !!! al hamdu lillah, enjoy your freedom Omar

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Aaf Post wrote:

    So glad you see this Djamel. Finally freedom for Omar. 🙂

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Diana Murtaugh Coleman wrote:

    Dear Andy and Aaf…sending joyful recognition of your dedicated efforts. This is a happy event indeed…

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Ann, Georgie and Diana. And Djamel, great to hear from you!

  25. paul siemering says...

    “You are free to go Mr. Khadr” said the judge. Words Omar has been waiting 14 years to hear. Omar and his many supporters (thanks Andy). I will spare all these fine people my usual recitation of Omar’s outrageously unjust history. Today we are here to celebrate the freedom he has been denied for so long. May the courts and judges of Canada leave him in peace. And Omar- go have some fun for yourself!

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Great news indeed – and Omar looks very happy indeed! Check out the photos from his first public appearance at Dennis Edney’s house, where he’s staying:
    https://twitter.com/shephardm/status/596474376574271488
    https://twitter.com/attackerman/status/596474897091559424

  27. “Give me a chance” says ex -Gitmo detainee Omar Khadr as he emerges from 13 years of captivity | Carol Anne Grayson (Radical Sister) blog says...

  28. arcticredriver says...

    Andy thanks for covering this terrific news. Omar’s press conference was a great success. I think I mentioned tuning into Abdurahman Khadr’s disastrous press conference eleven years ago.

    Abdurahman was not as relaxed, and the press was more agressive. He was asked if he had learned to shoot an AK-47 in Afghanistan. He replied that of course he had, as learning to shoot a rifle was as normal in Afghanistan as it was for a kid in Canada to learn how to play Hockey.

    Then he was asked if he had attended an al Qaeda training camp. As I recall he said, “No, I attended a military training camp, but it wasn’t an al Qaeda training camp…” Then he paused. That could have been the end of his answer. But he went on to say “… it was merely an al Qaeda related training camp.”

    This answer triggered immediate uproar among the gathered reporters, and about a week of outrage on the part of editorial writers, who denounced Abdurahman for pretending there was a distinction between an al Qaeda training camp, and an al Qaeda related camp.

    Their parents sent Abdullah and Abdurahman to the Khalden training camp, when they were around 11 or 12 years old. Although the 2004 CSR Tribunal summary of evidence memos for individuals who attended Khalden routinely described it as an al Qaeda camp, thanks to your research, we know it was a rival camp, one with key ideological differences from al Qaeda.

    Anyhow I am very glad his press conference went so well. The video of it is on the CBC site. Is it available for viewing in the UK?

  29. anna says...

    One of those all too rare splendidly wonderful events 🙂 and how great to share together something so positive for a change.

    Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious ?!

    May the hurdles that are still ahead for Omar be similarly abolished and bless all those (including yourself) who during these long years of never ending struggle did not loose faith, kept fighting against all odds for human dignity and justice.
    Most of all bless Omar himself, whose apparently indestructible humanity and dignity can be an example to all of us :-).

  30. freedetainees.org – Video: Omar Khadr Speaks, Says, “Freedom Is Way Better Than I Thought” says...

    […] facility in February 2014, and on May 7, in the appeals court in Edmonton, Justice Myra Bielby granted him bail, following his application in March, a judge’s ruling accepting his application two weeks ago, […]

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arctricredriver, for the reminder of the contrast with Abdurahman’s press conference in 2004. I am extremely glad that it went so well. Obviously, Dennis was working to keep the media in line, but mainly, it seems to me, Omar was thoroughly disarming.
    I posted the video, which was featured on YouTube, in my latest article here: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/05/08/video-omar-khadr-speaks-says-freedom-is-way-better-than-i-thought/

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Great to hear from you – on such an otherwise bleak day in the UK.
    I posted the video of Omar speaking, and discussed it here. As I described it, in the video “he was radiantly happy at being free, and was gracious and articulate in a manner that, genuinely, is rarely seen or heard in public.”
    See: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/05/08/video-omar-khadr-speaks-says-freedom-is-way-better-than-i-thought/

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Zahra Ali wrote:

    He happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time poor him it’s like he is younger than my son when he was taken this world is full of shit

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Laila Ali wrote:

    Omg 28 yrs old and looks much older poor man god knows what he went thru the bastards!!!

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Jessy Mumpo wrote:

    Wow taken at 15 years old and kept for 13 years, what horrendous injustice.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Marion Heads wrote:

    Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Zahra​, Laila​, Jessy​ and Marion​ – we are all as appalled as all decent people should be. If you missed it, see Omar speaking here. He is wonderfully gracious: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2015/05/08/video-omar-khadr-speaks-says-freedom-is-way-better-than-i-thought/

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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