Video: Omar Khadr Speaks, Says, “Freedom Is Way Better Than I Thought”

8.5.15

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.Last night, as Britain collapsed into five more years of Tory rule, from the party that believes only in enriching the already rich, privatising everything that hasn’t yet been privatised, and permanently abusing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, one of the only glimmers of light was not in the UK, but was in Canada, on a suburban street where former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr was holding his first press conference since being released from prison.

Now 28, Omar was held for twelve years and ten months — ten years and two months in US custody (almost all in Guantánamo), and two years and eight months in Canadian prisons. This was in spite of the fact that he was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, and was therefore a juvenile, and not responsible for his actions.

Abused by the Americans, Omar also had his rights ignored by Canadian agents who visited him at Guantánamo, and who destroyed his hopes that his home country would help him. He then had to plead guilty at a disgraceful war crimes trial, in the military commissions at Guantánamo, to secure his release from the prison, receiving an eight-year sentence, with one more year to be served at Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada.

It took almost two years for the Harper government to get him back, and he was then imprisoned in a maximum-security prison, and demonized by the government, even though he has always been a model prisoner. He was finally moved to a medium-security facility in February 2014, and on May 7 this year, in the appeals court in Edmonton, Justice Myra Bielby granted him bail, following his application in March, after a judge’s ruling accepting his application two weeks ago, and the government’s shameful, last-ditch appeal.

Omar walked free yesterday, and, under his bail conditions, moved in with Dennis Edney, who has been his lawyer since 2004. And last night (UK time), as the first hints were dropped that Britain was entrenching itself as a country dominated by a cruel right-wing ideology, Omar spoke to the media, in a nearly six-minute interview in which he was radiantly happy at being free, and was gracious and articulate in a manner that, genuinely, is rarely seen or heard in public.

The video is below, and I hope you watch it and share it if, like me, you find Omar to be an extremely sympathetic young man.

One of the most significant things that Omar said was, “Freedom is way better than I thought,” adding, “And the Canadian public, so far, has been way better than I anticipated.”

He also said, “I would like to thank the Canadian public for trusting me, and giving me a chance. I will prove to them that I’m more than what they thought of me. I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person.”

When he was asked “what he would say to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government worked for years to keep him from being transferred to Canada, then to keep him behind bars,” as CBC News put it, he said, simply and powerfully, “I’m going to have to disappoint him. I’m better than the person he thinks I am.”

He also “apologized for his actions as a teenager and offered advice to young people who might consider joining jihad against the West,” as CBC News described it.

“Don’t let emotions control you,” he said. “I’ve noticed that a lot of people are manipulated by not being educated.”

He also spoke about his remorse for anyone he had harmed — if the grenade he threw in 2002 did kill US Sgt. Christopher Speer, something that is far from certain. “I can just say that I’m sorry for the pain that I might [have] caused the families of the victims,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about the past but … I can do something about the future.”

He also spoke about his plans for the future, saying that he hopes, one day, to work in healthcare. “I’ve experienced pain, so I think I can empathize with people who are going through that,” he said.

He also spoke of his plans for furthering his education, following on from the extensive education he has undertaken since a Canadian professor, Arlette Zinck, began corresponding with him at Guantánamo. “I have a lot of learning to do,” he said. “A lot of basic skills I need to learn. I’m excited to start my life. I can’t change the past. All I can do is work on the present and the future.”

Before the interview, as CBC News put it, the reporters who gathered to watch the press conference received “a stern warning to be respectful” from Dennis Edney, who said, “I’ve had a long day. And I don’t mind going back into that house. Omar is going to say a few words. You can also ask him certain questions. But if the questions become too intrusive, then I’ll shut it down. This is Omar’s first time out in society since the age of 15.”

Omar also thanked Dennis in a witty exchange at the end of the interview. “I really appreciate him working for that last 11 years,” he said, adding, “I’m surprised he’s not sick of me yet.”Edney replied, “Wait till you get your bill,” and both men then shared a laugh.

After Omar returned to Edney’s home yesterday, his lawyer stayed behind to speak about his work, and his time with Omar. “It’s the start of that journey that I decided to do a long time ago, when I walked out of Guantanamo for the first time,” he said, adding, “I would like to restore him back to whole. And be able to allow him to participate in the Canadian community.”

He also explained that he will soon be arguing “aspects of the Khadr case before the Supreme Court of Canada,” and in June “will be back before a US court for the appeal of the original war crimes convictions” — the trigger for the bail Omar has just been granted.

“In many ways the fights continue,” Edney said. “It’s cost millions. And we’ve spent that. Both in terms of cash, and in terms of lost hours. And every lawyer and every judge, they all pat me on the back and say, good stuff.”

Asked again about this relationship with Omar, Edney said, “I think he’s worth every effort. I met him in a cold, empty cell. And I saw a broken bird, chained to a floor. So we journeyed together. We have, in some ways, both grown up together. I’m proud of who he is. He’s gone through hell.”

Hearing about Dennis Edney’s love for Omar, it’s hard for it not to bring tears to one’s eyes — and that, surely, is appropriate as this young man’s much-delayed freedom finally resumes after nearly 13 years in which two countries who claim to have a respect for the rule of law have treated him with absolutely disgraceful contempt and cruelty. I wish him all the best, and have no hesitation in stating that I think he will rise to the occasion, and the opportunities presented to him.

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).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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30 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Asif Rana wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Great piece.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Asif. Your support is greatly appreciated.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Tia Colebatch wrote:

    Yaaay this is amazing at last! heart breaking what he and many others have endured. hopefully it will be shut down very soon.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Nyssa Selka wrote:

    It’s difficult to imagine that this man who is smilling has known Guantanamo. I happy for him and his family.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tia and Nyssa. There’s still a long way to go for the 122 men still held at Guantanamo, but we must now look to their predicament – again – and try to maintain pressure on Obama.
    And I agree, Nyssa, that his spirit has obviously proven to be wonderfully resilient – although I know that the support of people like Dennis Edney and Arlette Zinck has also been immensely important.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jamie Mayerfeld wrote:

    Thank you. I’m overwhelmed with emotion.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    A rare feeling when it comes to Guantanamo, Jamie. So often we know so little about the men who are freed – though I do my best! Rarely are they as well-known, nor so horribly abused at such a young age. Good to hear from you.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Good news indeed, Andy

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, so great to see Omar in the video, Jan. Now I’d like to see Shaker and some of the other men still held free and able to talk openly too!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara SN wrote:

    Beautiful, thank you for this wonderful piece!

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    You are welcome, Sara. From the heart, I think!

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Lubna ‘Bonnie’ Karim wrote:

    Wow such a lovely guy so sad… Thanks Andy

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    So sad what they did to him, Lubna, but they very evidently couldn’t break his spirit. Such joy and humility.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote, in response to 9, above:

    I would too, Andy

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    You, me and many, many others, Jan. A British Parliamentary delegation is going to Washington in 10 days, hoping to keep up the pressure for Shaker’s release.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Bergman wrote:

    very moving, it’s hard to believe this young man has been in prison for almost half his life, he is so poised and articulate

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, “poised and articulate.” I like that description, Anna. He’s spent a good few years writing letters, and meeting his lawyers and his teacher, Arlette, but now he finally has his freedom it’s as if he hadn’t realized how infinite and possible the world beyond his prison walls could be.

  18. paul siemering says...

    Wow! So great! waiting so long- but how good he seems to be! Omar became a real strong man somehow this is just great wonderful to see him not only out, but finding it “way better…”

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Paul. I agree about how he became “a real strong man”, which seems remarkable after he was so crushed back in 2003, aged 16, when the Canadian agents came to interrogate him and to dash his hopes that his home country, the country of his birth, would do anything for him. His lawyers deserve huge respect for helping him to find hope within himself – and there can surely be no better representation than to have Dennis working for you, treating you as a son.

  20. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks again Andy.

    The CBC got an unusual number of social media responses to this event. IIRC an online poll (very unreliable of course) had 68 % of respondents saying his press conference had changed their view of him.

    They reported that reporters had tried to interview Tabitha Speers, Sergeant Speers’s widow, with an almost complete lack of success. Her bitterness, and the bitterness she encouraged in her children, is one of the more tragic aspects of this story. Sergeant Speers’s comrades say he ventured into a minefield to rescue injured Afghan children a few days before the firefight. I am sure he was thinking of his own children when he risked his life to do that. He sounds like an honorable man, and his death is a tragedy. But, personally, I think it would be better for Ms Speer and her children to remember he was a volunteer, who chose to enter into a very dangerous occupation. His choice to volunteer for the Special Forces, meant he chose to take extra risks. Would this bitterness make sense if he was a victim of blue-on-blue friendly fire? Combat vehicles, armored against enemy bullets, are top-heavy, and are particularly dangerous to drive on the poorly maintained mountain roads in Afghanistan. A surprising percentage of the Canadian casualties in Afghanistan died when the top-heavy armored vehicles they were in overturned.

    I honestly think Ms Speers and her children would have better mental health if they accepted that Christopher Speers volunteered for a dangerous occupation and death by this kind of wound had been a possibility he had generally considered when he volunteered. I honestly think they would have better mental health if they backed off from demonizing Omar.

    The CBC also interviewed the intransigent, deceitful and very predictable Layne Morris. And the CBC interviewed a new character for me — the lawyer for Morris and Speers’s lawsuit against Khadr. I really wish reporters would be tougher on Morris. Similarly I wish they had been tougher on the lawyer. She was a woman, in her forties or fifties, with extremely long and unkempt blond hair. She didn’t look like a lawyer. The CBC interviewer pointed out that Canada had its own whole different justice system, with a different set of laws for civil judgements. She tried to get the lawyer to recognize this, and explain how she thought this multi-million dollar judgment against Omar, from a Utah court, would be enforced in Canada. She kept using some legal term I was unfamiliar with, and so don’t remember, that made it sound like she thought that once Omar started earning some money, or got a settlement from the Government, her clients could simply hire some Canadian debt-collectors.

    I got the impression for her, or Morris, that they wouldn’t wait to see if Omar got a multi-million dollar settlement from the Canadian government, they would try to garnishee his wages, even if his only income was an hourly wage job.

    I know I said this before, but the Morris-Speers’s civil suit against Omar seems so terribly deceitful, as, half a decade earlier their civil suit against the estate of Ahmed Said Khadr, Omar’s father, took the opposite position. In the earlier lawsuit they argued that Omar was NOT responsible for anything he may have done on the battlefield, that, since Omar was a dutiful minor son, a child, his father was 100 percent responsible.

  21. arcticredriver says...

    I noticed Omar seemed to have been left with a definite limp. On close examination you can see his left eye is cloudy. On the other hand, it looks like most of the tiny fragments of shrapnel that had been tattooed onto the surface of his face seem to have been gradually ejected.

    One of the other details that emerged yesterday is that the original organizer of the website Free Omar Now was a young woman, and that in addition to running the website, and writing to Omar, seven young women who helped run that organization had been regularly visiting him in prison. Since he never got to the prom, or go on a date, that must have been a huge morale booster for him.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, arcticredriver.
    Interesting news about the poll, and 68% of respondents saying Omar’s press conference had changed their view of him. I looked for it online, but couldn’t find it. That’s very good news, though. I honestly think it was only possible for the government to demonize him when people couldn’t see him and hear from him. I knew he was a hugely sympathetic person, but even I had no idea quite how nice he would be!

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. You have been looking more closely than me. I like your description of how the shrapnel seems to have disappeared from Omar’s face.
    I know some of the people involved in the Free Omar Khadr Now campaign and website, of course, but I missed the story from yesterday. Do you have a link?
    I recall this story from March, which provided some background on his supporters:
    “In room 317, with Omar Khadr’s Edmonton ‘family’” http://metronews.ca/voices/footnotes/1326440/in-room-317-with-omar-khadrs-edmonton-family/

  24. Anna says...

    Thanks, Arctic Driver, for the -sad- Speer update. Isn’t it amazing how (supposedly always revengeful) muslim victims in fact tend to be so open to dialogue and reconciliation in spite of the unimaginable suffering that was inflicted upon them, while christian or at any rate non-muslim victims so often seem to be the bloodthirsty actors in this awful GWoT drama, while in fact all sides are victims.

    Apart from Omar’s residual physical ailments I was saddened by the fact that he seems to have accepted the brainwash which he has endured for many years, that he indeed might have killed Sgt Speer or indeed even have thrown any grenade at all, in spite of apparently there being no evidence for this.
    But how could a severely wounded, utterly abandoned, purposefully disoriented and therefore utterly vulnerable kid possibly withstand such concerted pressure to convince him that he committed some heinous crime?
    Omar’s apology for pain which he possibly might have caused, is however one more testimony to his humanity and empathy for other people’s suffering as opposed to hateful revenge.

    With all due respect for the painful loss suffered by Mrs Speer and her children, one would have expected her, as a mature adult who was not subjected to such extreme psychological pressure, to be capable of reacting in a similarly positive manner as Omar does.

    May Mrs Speer one day soon join the 68 % whose opinion changed after watching Omar live …

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Anna. Good to hear from you – again – after hearing your thoughts immediately after Omar’s release.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Venetia Bellman wrote:

    So happy for Omar Khadr!

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Sandra Cisneros wrote:

    What about this adx in Colorado…this is inhumane
    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-trial/federal-supermax-prison-n353846

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Sharon Rose wrote:

    SHAME ON THE USA

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Venetia​, Sandra​ and Sharon​. Good to hear from you all. Thanks for posting that article about the ADX prison in Colorado. Not enough people – especially American – know how inhuman these supermax facilities are. As the article notes, ” the ADX imposes extreme isolation. Prisoners spend about 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in 12-by-7-foot cells with a single 4-inch-wide window and walls thick enough to stifle any attempts at communication. A slot in the door is used to deliver meals and for any visits. Amnesty International last year said the facility breached international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners.”

  30. craig says...

    hes a terrosrist and needs to be put in a hole, have people forgot he thru a fucking grenade at soldiers, of course this wont be posted by the liberal fuckin muslim terrorist loving crybabies that will be the first to line up to be raped and stoned to death when the new muslim overlords take power

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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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