Omar Khadr Speaks: Major Profile of Former Guantánamo Prisoner in the Toronto Star

Omar Khadr with Dennis Edney on May 9, 2015 (Photo: Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star).For nine years, I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr, the former child prisoner at Guantánamo, who was released on bail in Canada a month ago. I first wrote about Omar in my book The Guantánamo Files, which I wrote in 2006-07, and since then I’ve written 94 articles about him, watching as he was first put forward for a trial by military commission in June 2007, shortly after I started writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and writing a major profile of him in November 2007.

In 2008, I followed his pre-trial hearings in the military commissions (see here and here, for example), and watched in horror as videos of his profoundly insensitive interrogations by Canadian agents were released, and in October 2008 I wrote a detailed article about him based on the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize the rights of juvenile prisoners.

I then wrote about the Obama administration’s lamentable decision to charge Omar — again — in the revived military commissions, and watched as the pre-trial hearings unfolded, leading to one of the bleakest moments in the Obama presidency — the plea deal Omar agreed to, in order to leave Guantánamo, in which, to his eternal shame, President Obama allowed a former child to be prosecuted, in a war crimes trial, not for war crimes, but for having engaged in armed conflict with US soldiers during a war — something that has never been a war crime and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Supreme Court Rules That Omar Khadr Was A Juvenile Prisoner, Not An Adult

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.How much money will the Canadian government spend in its futile effort to demonize Omar Khadr? A week after the former child prisoner — now 28 years old — was freed on bail after nearly 13 years behind bars (ten years in Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada), winning over numerous Canadians with his humility as he spoke in public for the first time, the Canadian government, which had unsuccessfully argued that releasing him on bail would damage its relations with the US, faced another humiliating court defeat, this time in Canada’s Supreme Court.

The government was claiming that Omar — just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father — had been sentenced as an adult, not a juvenile. The intention was that, if Omar is to be returned to prison if his appeal against his conviction in the US fails (which, it should be noted, seems unlikely), he would be returned to a federal prison. The ruling followed an appeals court ruling in Omar’s favor last July, which I wrote about here.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that Omar had been sentenced as a juvenile, and that, if he were to be returned to prison, it would therefore be to a “provincial reformatory,” as the Globe and Mail described it. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Judge Grants Bail to Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr in a recent photo taken at the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Canada, where he has been held since February 2014.Over two and a half years since Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr returned to Canada from Guantánamo, a judge in Alberta, Justice June Ross, has granted his application for bail that was argued in Edmonton last month.

“He has a 12½ year track record as a model prisoner, and a release plan supported by educators, mental health professionals, and his lawyers,” Ross wrote in her opinion. Omar has an appeal ongoing in the US against his conviction, following a number of successful appeals by other prisoners convicted in Guantánamo’s deeply flawed military commissions process, and, as the BBC described it, Justice Ross “said the appeal was likely to succeed and keeping him in jail was not in the public interest.”

I cannot express sufficiently how heartening it is to hear that Omar’s bail application has been granted, after nearly 13 years in which he has been treated appallingly by both the US authorities and his own government. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Appeals Court Rules That Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Should Be Serving a Youth Sentence

Good news about Guantánamo is rare —  whether regarding those still held, or those released — so it was reassuring to hear this week that the Court of Appeal in Alberta, Canada, delivered a major blow to the Canadian government’s efforts to hold former prisoner Omar Khadr in federal prison rather than in a provincial jail. Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence handed down in a plea deal at his trial by military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, and has been held in federal prisons since his return to Canada, where he was born in 1986.

The 27-year old was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US forces in a compound. He had been taken there, and deposited with some adults, by his father, but on his capture, when he was severely wounded, he was abused in US custody and eventually put forward for a war crimes trial, even though, as a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished according to an international treaty on the rights of the child signed by the US (and by Canada), even though there is no evidence that the allegation that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier is true, and even though there is no precedent for claiming that a combat death in an occupied country is a war crime.

Khadr has since explained that he only agreed to the plea deal because he could see no other way of ever getting out of Guantánamo, and last November, via his US civilian lawyer, Sam Morison, he appealed in the US for his conviction to be overturned. In recent years, US appeals court judges have delivered two devastating rulings, overturning two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, in the cases of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men were convicted were not war crimes at the time the legislation authorizing the commissions was passed — and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Joins Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s Lawyer, for Amnesty International Event in London, March 18, 2014

Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s long-term Canadian civilian lawyer, has been in the UK since last week, on a tour organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, so I’m posting details of his speaking events for anyone who has not yet heard him talk, and also to notify readers, supporters of Omar Khadr and opponents of  Guantánamo that I’ll be joining Dennis at an event in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch tomorrow evening. To support Dennis’s ongoing and extensive legal costs, please visit this page, and to support the costs of the UK tour, please see here.

Regular readers will know that I have been covering Omar’s story since I first began working on Guantánamo eight years ago. I wrote about him in my book The Guantánamo Files, and when I began writing articles on a full-time basis, in June 2007, Omar’s was one of the first cases that I addressed, when he was charged in the second version of the Bush administration’s troubled military commissions, after the first version was thrown out by the US Supreme Court for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions — and, specifically, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and humiliating and degrading treatment, and requires any trials to be in “a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Omar, of course, never received such protections, even when the commissions were revived with Congressional approval, or when, under President Obama, they were brought back for a second time. In the end, to be assured of ever leaving Guantánamo, he accepted a plea deal in October 2010, admitting to war crimes that had been invented by Congress, and, moreover, providing a permanent stain on the reputation of President obama, who not only allowed a plea deal based on invented war crimes to take place, but did so to a former child prisoner (just 15 when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002), even though, according to the 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, juvenile prisoners (those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place) must be rehabilitated rather than punished. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s Prison Ombudsman Still Critical of Classification of Omar Khadr, Former Guantánamo Prisoner

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how, for the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk, and moved for the maximum-security prison in which he had been held, in Edmonton, to the Bowden Institution in Alberta province, a medium-security facility with a minimum-security annex.

I also noted how this move “punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual,” and, it should be noted, it also enables him to be able to apply for parole.

Neverthless, Ivan Zinger, the executive director of the independent Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada’s prison ombudsman), is still critical of the position taken by the prison authorities. Last week, Colin Perkel of The Canadian Press reported that, in a letter to the Correctional Service of Canada’s senior deputy commissioner, Zinger wrote that the correctional authorities had “unfairly classified” Khadr, “even though they lowered his risk rating from maximum to medium security.” Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Condemns His Guantánamo Plea Deal, As Canada Concedes He Is Not A “Maximum-Security Threat”

Good news from Canada, finally, as former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr has been “reclassified as a medium-security risk,” and will be moved from Edmonton, where he is currently held as a maximum-security prisoner, to Bowden Correctional Institution, north of Calgary. The move will probably take place in the next few weeks, as the Edmonton Journal described it on Friday.

Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, has persistently been treated with disdain by the Canadian government, which, for ten years, failed to stand up for his rights as a Canadian citizen and a juvenile prisoner.

When Khadr finally agreed to a plea deal at Guantánamo, just to be sent home, the Canadian government dragged its heels regarding its own part of the bargain. After the plea deal was agreed, during his trial by military commission at Guantánamo in October 2010, Khadr was supposed to spend just one more year at Guantánamo followed by seven years’ imprisonment in Canada after his repatriation, but it took 23 months for him to be returned, and, since his return, he has been held as a maximum-security prisoner, even though he has never been a high-risk prisoner.

Dennis Edney, the Edmonton lawyer who has been representing Khadr for ten years, explained how the decision to reclassify Khadr as “medium-security,” which was taken by Kelly Hartle, the warden at Edmonton, “reflects a ‘plethora of evidence’ from US authorities and Canada’s prison ombudsman that Khadr never was a maximum-security threat,” as the Edmonton Journal described it. Read the rest of this entry »

“He Didn’t Commit a War Crime”: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo

Last week was a busy week for legal challenges by former Guantánamo prisoners. Just after David Hicks announced that he was appealing against his 2007 conviction for providing material support for terrorism (which I wrote about here), Omar Khadr’s lawyer in the US announced that the Canadian citizen, who was repatriated in September 2012 but is still imprisoned in his home country, is “set to appeal his five war crimes convictions on the grounds that the military commission had no legal authority to try him or accept his guilty pleas,” as Colin Perkel described it for The Canadian Press.

In order to leave Guantánamo, Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, in which he admitted that he was guilty of murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying, even though there are serious problems with the credibility of the main charge against him — that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier — as an investigation of the evidence indicates that, at the time, he was unconscious, having been shot twice in the back at close range.

Khadr is able to challenge two of the charges against him — providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy — because of two rulings by the court of appeals in Washington D.C. last October and in January this year, when judges threw out two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions at Guantánamo, in 2008 — against Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

How Canada Has Hidden the Truth About Omar Khadr: US War Crimes, Institutional Racism and Media Failures

I’m cross-posting below an excellent article about Omar Khadr, the child prisoner held at Guantánamo for ten years, from 2002 to 2012, written by Heather Marsh, a journalist and activist who ran WikiLeaks Central, the WikiLeaks news site, from 2010 to 2012. Omar, who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US Special Forces in July 2002, was returned to Canada in September 2012 as the result of a plea deal negotiated in Guantánamo, in which, in exchange for admitting killing a US soldier with a grenade (which was almost certainly untrue), Omar received an eight-year sentence in October 2010, with one year to be served in Guantánamo, and seven in Canada.

Heather’s article was initially published on the Free Omar Khadr website that she runs with Aaf Post, between a court hearing that Omar had on September 23, and the ruling on October 18. She also thanked the Free Omar Khadr group for research assistanceAs I explained in an article after the ruling, in the initial submission in August, and in the hearing in September, his lawyer, Dennis Edney, sought his transfer from a maximum security prison (where he is currently held) to a provincial prison, arguing that an eight-year sentence ought to have been regarded as a youth sentence (because a life sentence is mandatory for an adult murder conviction), and therefore Khadr should not have been sent to a maximum security prison in the first place.

However, in delivering his ruling, Justice John Rooke refused to allow Khadr to be moved. Although he agreed that eight years was not an adult sentence for murder, he accepted eight years as an appropriate punishment for the other four war crimes that Khadr agreed to in his plea deal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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