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 »

“Petty and Nasty”: Guantánamo Commander Bans Lawyers From Bringing Food to Share with Prisoners

The meeting room in Camp Echo, mentioned in Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Cozad's May 2015 memo prohibiting lawyers from bringing food into meetings with the clients, as seen from one of the cells. Camp Echo is where prisoners used to be held in isolation.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the prison’s military commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, has issued a memorandum banning lawyers for the prisoners from bringing food to meetings with their clients. The memorandum, entitled, “Modification to Rules Regarding Detainee Legal and Periodic Review Board Meetings,” states, “Food of any kind, other than that provided by guard force personnel for Detainee consumption, is prohibited within meeting spaces.”

That innocuous sounding ban is, nevertheless, a huge blow to many lawyers and prisoners. Since lawyers were first allowed to visit prisoners ten years ago, and to represent them, after the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, it has been an opportunity for bonding between lawyers and prisoners, and an opportunity for the prisoners to receive something from the outside world, in a place where, initially, they were completely cut off from the outside world, and where, even now, over six years after Barack Obama became president, they are still more isolated than any other prisoners held by the US — unable, for example, to meet with any family members, even if their relatives could afford to fly there, and, in almost all cases, held without charge or trial in defiance of international norms.

As veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg explained in an article for the Miami Herald, “the custom of eating with a captive across a meeting table at Camp Echo — with the prisoner shackled by an ankle to the floor — took on cultural and symbolic significance almost from the start when lawyers brought burgers and breakfast sandwiches from the base McDonald’s to prison meetings in 2005.” 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 »

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

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.” 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 »

Radio: Two Recent Interviews with Andy Worthington About Guantánamo as the Prison Begins Its 14th Year of Operations

A photo taken at the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo's event in Chicago on January 15, 2015 with Andy Worthington, Candace Gorman, and Debra Sweet (first, second, and fifth from left). The group also includes (L to R) CCSDG regulars Barbara Lyons, Jerry Parker, Mario Vanegas, Jay Becker, Marie Shebeck, Joe Scarry, and Eldon Grossman. Barbara holds a poster from the "We Stand with Shaker Aamer" campaign. (Photo: Lina Thorne.)A week and a half ago, I posted links to three radio interviews I had undertaken while in Massachusetts on my recent US tour, highlighting the prison at Guantánamo Bay as it began its 14th year of operations, and calling for its closure. Two of those interviews were broadcast locally, and another was broadcast from Chicago, which I visited on January 15, taking part in a lively panel discussion with Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who organized my tour, and Candace Gorman, a lawyer who has represented two Guantánamo prisoners, one released in 2010, and one still held (also see here).

I hope that a video of that panel discussion will be available soon, but in the meantime you can, if you wish, hear a radio interview I undertook by phone the day after the Chicago event, on my return to New York, with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC). I spoke with CIOGC’s Communications Director Aymen Abdel Halim, who had been directed to me by an activist who had been present at the Chicago event the evening before.

The 30-minute interview is here, via SoundCloud — although, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that, for the first 16 minutes, it is a monologue, as I had been asked to run through Guantánamo’s history in detail, more or less as I had been doing during my speaking events. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Urges Canadian Government to Respect the Law While Dealing with National Security Issues

In the wake of last week’s attacks in Ottawa by a lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a soldier at the National War Memorial and also attacked Parliament Hill, and another attack in Quebec, where a warrant officer was run over and killed, the word “terrorism” has been used liberally, and the Canadian government has rushed to release a new bill, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” which, if passed, “will expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” as the Globe and Mail reported.

The paper stated that sources had told them that the government was “weighing new tools to deal with citizens who openly support terrorist attacks on Canadians or back groups that urge this goal,” and that “the country’s top Mountie”  — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson — was “calling on the government to make it easier to restrict the liberties of suspects in terror cases.” When senior officials start talking openly about restricting liberties, alarm bells should always start ringing.

In another chilling passage, the Globe and Mail noted that the government “has already signalled it’s looking at lowering the threshold for preventive arrests.” That is chilling, of course, because “preventive arrests” overturns the accepted concept of the law as something that is designed to deal with crimes that have taken place, not crimes that may or may not take place in the future. 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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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