Omar Khadr’s Bail Conditions: On 31st Birthday, Judge Allows Internet Access, Refuses to Lift Ban on Free Travel within Canada, or Unsupervised Meeting with Sister

20.9.17

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr photographed in July 2017 in Ontario (Photo: Colin Perkel).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Happy belated birthday to former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, who turned 31 yesterday. Nearly three years since he was returned to Canada from Guantánamo, his birthday was an occasion to reflect on the mixed news from an Edmonton courtroom on Friday, in response to his request for his bail conditions to be eased.

Seized in Afghanistan at the age of 15 after a firefight that left him severely wounded, Khadr, who had been taken to Afghanistan by his father, was never rehabilitated, as the US is supposed to do with juvenile prisoners, according the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories.

Instead, Khadr was subjected to torture and abuse, and, eventually, shamefully charged in a military commission trial on the basis that, in the firefight, he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier. Ignored by the US was his age at the time of the incident, and the very plausible claim that he never threw the grenade in the first place, having been face-down under a pile of rubble with horrendous injuries at the time the grenade was supposed to have been thrown.

Nevertheless, Barack Obama — to what should be his eternal shame — presided over Khadr’s trial, and his plea deal in October 2010, when he agreed to the charges, because he saw it as his only way of getting out of Guantánamo. In exchange for his plea deal, he received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo and seven in Canada.

However, the Canadian government was in no hurry to get Khadr back, and it was nearly two years until he returned home, in September 2012, and another two and a half years of legal wrangling before he was released on bail in May 2015, to finally have the opportunity to rebuild his life.

The Canadian government’s position regarding Khadr had long been condemned, at the highest levels of the country’s judicial system. In 2010, as I explained in an article in 2013:

[T]he Canadian Supreme Court ruled that his rights had been violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantánamo in 2003, when he was just 16. The Court stated, “Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the US prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

Finally, in July this year, Canada’s shameful treatment of Omar Khadr resulted in him receiving a compensation payment of $10.5m (about $9m in US currency).

Despite this, however, some of his bail conditions were still in force.

Some had been eased two years ago, around the time of his 29th birthday. As I reported at the time:

Two weeks ago, as I described it, he “asked a Canadian court to ease his bail conditions, so he can fly to Toronto to visit his family, attend a night course at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), and get to early morning prayers,” and last week Justice June Ross of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta agreed to relax his curfew to allow him to attend night classes and early morning prayers, reserving judgment on his other request until this week. On Friday (September 18), as hoped, his bail conditions have been eased still further. As the Edmonton Journal reported, Justice Ross said that he “can travel to visit his grandparents in Toronto for two weeks this fall.” In addition, his electronic tag will be removed.

As the Toronto Star described it, Justice Ross “said it is important that some restrictions remain, to ensure Khadr doesn’t have terrorist associations. But she added that he has complied with all conditions since he was released four months ago, and a gradual release into the community ‘is the best way to ensure he doesn’t pose a danger to the public.’” She added, “There is no reason why he should not have a visit with his family.”

For the Toronto visit, as the Edmonton Journal put it, he must travel with Dennis Edney, his lawyer for many years, in whose house he is living, and is also required to “stay with his maternal grandparents or his Toronto lawyer John Philipps, provide a phone number and address, and report to his bail supervisor.” In a sign of how micro-managed his freedoms are, despite these concessions, he “will be allowed to speak to his maternal grandparents in a language other than English, but not his controversial mother or sister Zaynab, both of whom now live outside Canada. Three brothers and one other sister live in Toronto.”

Since then, as the Edmonton Journal explained, “Restrictions that prevented Khadr from freely communicating with other members of his family, including his mother, have … been eased,” but the ban on having unsupervised visits with his sister remains in place, and his request for it to be dropped was denied in court on Friday by Justice Ross, who continues to deal with his efforts to have his bail conditions eased.

Khadr had hoped to be able to freely meet his sister who, according to the Canadian Press, “is now reportedly living in Sudan with her fourth husband, but is planning a visit to Canada.” CBC News added that, although she was born in Ottawa, “she was at one point unable to get a Canadian passport after frequently reporting hers lost,” and was also “subject to an RCMP investigation in 2005, but faced no charges.” It was also noted that “[h]er third husband, Canadian Joshua Boyle, is reportedly still a Taliban hostage along with his American wife and children in Afghanistan” (and see here for more on that story).

However, Justice Ross “refused to remove restrictions stipulating” that he can “communicate with his sister in English only and in the presence of a court-appointed supervisor, his lawyers or bail supervisor,” as CBC News Edmonton described it.

Notoriously, Zaynab Khadr had, in the past, expressed support for al-Qaeda, while her brother was still at Guantánamo, but Omar’s efforts to persuade Justice Ross that, whatever her views, he was not impressionable, failed to convince her.

In a sworn affidavit, Khadr said, ”I am now an adult and I think independently. Even if the members of my family were to wish to influence my religious or other views, they would not be able to control or influence me in any negative manner.”

Justice Ross also “denied Khadr’s request to have his travel restrictions softened, meaning he will still require authorization to leave Alberta and travel within Canada,” as CBC News described it, noting that this was in spite of his lawyer, Nathan Whitling, arguing in court that his “requests to visit his elderly grandparents in Toronto had always been approved in the past.”

As Whitling told reporters after the hearing, “He’s been getting permission anyway, so it’s not a huge big deal, but it is pretty onerous for him to have to seek advanced permission any time he wants to take a trip to Toronto.”

Justice Ross also granted Khadr “greater access to the internet as long as he stays away from anything to do with terrorism on the web.”

Whistling also told reporters that Khadr was “disappointed” by aspects of the ruling, explaining that, when it came to his sister, “He does want to be able to contact his sister and he doesn’t see how he’s going to be able to speak to his nieces and nephews without having some sort of supervisor present at the time.”

In his affidavit, Khadr, who recently got married, also explained that “he has been accepted to a nursing program in Alberta and wishes to put his legal matters behind him,” as CBC News put it. He added, however, as CTV News described it, that his client is “doing very well,” and that the requirements that he “seek permission before travelling within Canada and only contact his sister only ‘in the presence of some responsible person who has been approved in advance by his bail supervisor’ are more of an ‘inconvenience’ than a ‘big deal.’”

As Whitling said, “Everything’s going just fine for him. I don’t want to pretend this is a major burden on 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, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), 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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16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Happy birthday to former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr, 31 years old yesterday. It’s wonderful to hear how well he is doing, married and about to embark on a nursing program, but disappointing that, at a hearing on Friday about easing his bail conditions, the judge refused to allow him to travel freely within Canada, and also refused to allow him to meet unsupervised with his sister Zaynab, although she did allow him greater access to the internet. His lawyer, Nathan Whitling, assured reporters that he’s “doing very well,” but I look forward to the day when he can live like any other Canadian.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    I feared for Omar Khadr for so long, esp after Bush admin officials were going around claiming that there were no minor-aged children being imprisoned in Bush’s Gitmo. I thought we would never hear about him again, after the last video of him in an orange jumpsuit, weeping as a very young man. Thank you for sharing this story. Happy Birthday, Omar Khadr!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Rose. I remember, in particular, wondering year after year if he would ever be released. What a disaster for America, and its sense of itself as a nation that respects the rule of law, to have treated a child in such a manner!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    so true.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Øyvind Arnesen wrote:

    How long has he been in that hellhole?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Rose Ann Bellotti wrote:

    too long

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    He was in Guantanamo for nearly ten years, Øyvind – then imprisoned for another two and a half years in Canada before he was granted bail.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

  9. Tom says...

    A message to anyone who says that Khadr doesn’t deserve any compensation for being tortured. If you were tortured, you’d want compensation as well. Until you’ve been tortured, you’ll never understand.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I was very glad when Justin Trudeau didn’t put up a fight about Omar Khadr’s compensation, unlike the Harper government, which persistently treated him with complete contempt.
    At its heart, the compensation, which was because his rights as a Canadian were violated when Canadian agents visited him at Guantanamo and interrogated him when he was just 16, and failed to do anything for him, was an acknowledgement that he was treated appallingly – and tortured – by the Americans, although I do wonder if the US will ever be held accountable.
    After all, Maher Arar, who the US sent to torture in Syria with Canadian complicity, was also compensated by the Canadian government, but the US has refused to acknowledge that what it did was wrong.

  11. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks for all your important work on Guantanamo Andy! In particular, thanks for your coverage of Omar Khadr’s case.

    With regard to his compensation, and what is going to happen to it, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t quietly give a considerable chunk of it to Dennis Edney and Nathan Whitling. He has had a dozen other civilian lawyers, or short periods of time, but these are the two who stood by him, very selflessly, and at very considerable personal expense.

    Where will the rest of the settlement go? Shamefully, the right wing press, and some Canadian politicians, have voiced concerns that Omar would promptly hand over the settlement to fund jihadism.

    What I think will use up a big chunk, might even totally drain his settlement, will be his efforts to have his charges dropped. His plea bargain prohibits him from ever challenging his verdict. But he is still able to challenge the charges.

    All his lawyers volunteered their services, when he was a penniless captive, apprehended as a youth. But he can hardly expect lawyers to volunteer their services when they must know he received a multi-million dollar settlement.

    He faced a charge also faced by Salim Hamdam, material support of terrorism. Hamdan successfully challenged that charge in a civilian appeals court. When he won that appeal, when the appeals court ruled the charge violated the principle that no one should be charged with an act that wasn’t a crime at the time they were accused of committing it, it changed him from an ex-convict to an innocent man.

    Hicks, Omar, and one or two other guys had that charge dropped. Al Qosi, the elderly Sudanese OBL follower who DIA spin doctors say has returned to terrorism, has lawyers arguing his charge should be dropped. But that is another story.

    Omar has to try to get the rest of his charges overturned. He hasn’t been set free. He was released, on bail, while he appeals his charges in the US Justice System. A Canadian judge agreed that it was likely enough his appeals would succeed that justice would best be served by release, on bail.

    So, even if he wanted to forget about appealing his charge, and keep the rest of the settlement, to pay his considerable health costs, et cetera, I don’t think he can.

    I think if he decided to drop the appeal he goes back to prison, to serve out the rest of his sentence. As soon as he was released on bail, the clock stopped ticking on his sentence. He has more than two years left to serve.

    He only gets to a civilian appeals court once his appeal is heard by the US Court of Military Commission Review. I think his is still stalled there. Once it gets to a Civilian court, I think we can count on that ruling being appealed. If his appeal is turned down Omar either has to appeal to a higher court, or turn himself in, to serve the rest of his sentence. Particularly now Trump is President I would be very surprised if the executive branch didn’t appeal a successful outcome for Omar all the way to the Supreme Court.

    If Omar’s final US appeal of his charges fails, or is only partially successful, I think he has to go back to prison.

    He can then apply for parole, but he would remain a “convicted terrorist”.

    Some commentators focus their outrage over the size of his settlement, not over the fact he got one. To them I would point out that (1) Canada had an obligation to try to make sure Omar got a fair trial; (2) Omar wouldn’t need to appeal if Canada had tried and succeeded in making sure he got a fair trial, as he never would have been convicted.

    This is why Canada should be on the hook for a settlement large enough to have a chance of funding his US appeal.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    Thanks very much for your considered thoughts on Omar’s ongoing legal struggles. I have to admit that I hadn’t thought much about this. I thought his bail would eventually – somehow – lead to the rest of his sentence being dropped, and had no notion that, as you suggest, he would ever go back to prison. That’s really shocking to hear.

  13. arcticredriver says...

    Greetings! You probably saw there has been a startling development for Joshua Boyle, who was once Omar’s brother-in-law. Joshua, his wife, and their tiny children, born in captivity, faced execution by the Haqqani Network, their captors in Afghanistan, who sought their exchange for Anas Haqqani and other Haqqani Network leaders who were prisoners of the Afghan government. The longer the standoff lasted, with no sign of the Afghan government bending, the more likely it seemed they too would be killed.

    But they were rescued early this morning. Some accounts say five captors had loaded Joshua, his wife, and their three children into the trunk of a car. When Joshua heard the firing begin he heard one of the captors say “Kill the hostages”. But the Pakistanis killed the captors first. Joshua got some shrapnel in his leg. Some of these rescues end with the hostages dying in the crossfire.

    Anyhow, an element that reporters have tried to explain to viewers is why Joshua refused to get on a USAF C-130 transport. Some reporters have said that Joshua feared that getting on the US plane would lead to some kind of charges against him, due to his 2010 marriage to Zaynab. Some reporters have said that Joshua declined to board the plane because its first stop was Bagram Airport, and it was the first stop for so many of the captives sent to Guantanamo.

    I think they are just guessing. I think I know Joshua better than they do, and I don’t dismiss his reluctance as a sign his detention has damaged his judgment. The Kandahar Five — the five foreigners that the Taliban held in a Kandahar torture prison. You wrote about them, how a BBC film crew found them stranded there. When the Taliban guards ran away, so did all the Afghan prisoners.

    The BBC contacted the Americans, to feed and clothe these men. And US spin doctors got positive press after promising that the five men would be soon repatriated to their home countries. Then duplicitiously, after the USA got that positive press, when the reporters weren’t looking, they quietly shipped them to Guantanamo.

    Most people don’t know about this shameful DoD duplicity. But I am sure Joshua remembers. I strongly suspect the real reason he declined to travel on a US plane is a credible reason related to his knowledge of the less well known elements of the DoD’s record.

    Maybe your friend, the talking dog, will interview him, when he gets back.

    Cheers!

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Fascinating. Thanks for that update on the story of Joshua Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children, arcticredriver. I see, interestingly, that, in 2009, he stated that “anything related to terrorism on Wikipedia, I wrote, pretty much.” I didn’t know that!
    As for his reasons for fearing the US, I can see no reason to dispute your story. Anyone who has looked closely at the Guantanamo story knows about the US’s horrendous betrayal of the men freed from a Taliban jail only to end up in Guantanamo, including two men who then, incidentally, became prodigious liars in Guantanamo, falsely implicating other prisoners in al-Qaeda-related activities.
    We also know, of course how inept US intelligence was when it came to Afghan prisoners, with, by my reckoning, up to two dozen men sent to Guantanamo who had actually been working with the Americans, and how, in Pakistan, the US repeatedly kidnapped innocent people in house raids.

  15. arcticredriver says...

    Last night’s CBC News reported that Joshua said he would never have refused a ride on any plane that would carry him closer to home. The reporter then attributed the assertion that he had refused to board a US plane to CNN. But Canada’s Global News also reported this.

    Joshua’s statement also contained a shocking account of the Haqqani killing a daughter, when he wouldn’t agree to perform some act they wanted of him. He said they then raped his wife.

    Shocking

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, a shocking story, arcticredriver.
    From the Guardian’s report:

    “The stupidity and the evil of the Haqqani network in the kidnapping of a pilgrim … was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorising the murder of my infant daughter,” Boyle said, in a calm voice which cracked at the mention of the child.

    “And the stupidity and evil of the subsequent rape of my wife, not as a lone action, but by one guard, but assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.”

    See: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/canadian-held-in-afghanistan-says-child-was-killed-and-wife-raped-in-captivity

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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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