omar khadr

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Guantanamo’s Child walks free today after 12 years and 9 months of prison. Omar Khadr was only 15 when he was captured by American forces in Afghanistan and taken to Bagram and later shifted to Guantanamo where he remained incarcerated for 8 years and was subjected to torture to extract a confession. He smiles as he leaves the Edmonton courthouse today, saying “Freedom is way better than I thought”. Years of U.S. coercion, torture and imprisonment haven’t managed to daunt his spirit, as he beams radiantly leaving the courthouse as a free man.

Omar was taken into the prison as a child of 15 and he is leaving as a free man now when he is 28. He is one of the many juveniles held at Guantanamo Bay who have been accused of “terrorism” by the United States.

Omar Khadr: War Criminal, Child Soldier… or Neither?

Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.

If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantánamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.

Omar’s case is complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing certainly died from a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever threw one. And while Omar confessed to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture—and given his option to either insist upon his innocence and stay in Gitmo or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, the context of his confession was problematic at best.

The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that that Omar’s right were violated, but left the remedy up to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who of course declined to provide any solution.

Harper himself has been making strong statements about the trial in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings—he’s said that “It is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”

Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, argued that he should be transferred to a provincial prisonfrom a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.

Heather Marsh, a journalist who has followed Omar’s case closely, was in court on Monday and wrote about it for us.

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The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing. Photo by the author

The court was filled with what seemed to be Omar’s supporters. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high schooler who said she was done with classes for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze together, 120 people were in the courtroom and a live feed was set up for those who had to watch from the overflow room.

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Growing Up Guantánamo

Mohammed el Gharani, a citizen of Chad raised in Saudi Arabia, had just turned 15 when he arrived at Guantánamo Bay in February 2002, shepherded off a military cargo plane wearing shackles and blackout goggles. He weighed 126 pounds, was too young to shave, and for months didn’t know where he was. “Some brothers said Europe,” he later recalled in an in​terview with the London Review of Books. Others thought the unsparing winter sun suggested Brazil. When an interrogator finally told him he was in Cuba, Mohammed didn’t recognize the name. “An island in the middle of the ocean,” the interrogator said. “Nobody can run away from here, and you’ll be here forever.”

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Omar Khadr, age 14. Photo courtesy Wikicommons

Omar Khadr, born in Toronto, was also shipped to the offshore prison as a juvenile. The 16-year-old made an early impression on the Army chaplain on base, who, walking by his cell, found Omar curled up asleep, arms wrapped tightly around a Disney book with drawings of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. “He definitely seemed out of place,” the chaplain told reporter Michelle Shephard, who wrote about Omar in her bookGuantánamo’s Child.​

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Fahd Ghazy at around age 17. Photo courtesy the Center for Constitutional Rights

Fahd Ghazy, who grew up in a Yemeni farming village, was seized when he was 17. He had recently graduated at the top of his high school class. One of Guantánamo’s earliest detainees, he was initially housed in the jerry-built, open-air cages of Camp X-Ray. Around the time he was transferred to a permanent cellblock, Fahd learned he’d won a university scholarship to study in Yemen’s capital, Sana'a. Nearly 13 years later, he’s still at the naval base—still without charge.

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Omar Khadr speaks to the media for the first time.

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and was a child solider (15 years old) after his extremist father took him away from Canada, and was allegedly involved in the death of an American (though evidence of this is poor). He was sent to Guantanamo Bay where he was tortured for years and coerced to confess complicity in these alleged acts (which may not even have happened). He has been in prison in the US and Canada for 13 years.

He was released on bail today after the judge found that he was a model citizen and was at low risk to the public.

The interview was live, but I’ll post it later if I can.

My impression of Omar Khadr watching the interview: A friendly, soft spoken and polite young man. He seemed grateful and very happy, smiling almost the whole time.

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When asked if he has anything to say to Harper after his release today, Omar Khadr said, “Well, I’m going to have to disappoint him- I’m better than the person he thinks I am.”

Thank you Lord for proving to us that justice is real in a world that seems to become increasingly darker as kalyug progresses. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

You are witnessing a man’s first moments of freedom after over a decade in prison. This is just pure magic and I’m sitting here grinning like an idiot and crying like a baby. Welcome back Omar. <3

Canada takes so much goddamn pride in its governmental system with all its “true north, strong and free” and “multicultural inclusivity”  bs but where in this entire Omar Khadr situation is the least bit of this “freedom” and “inclusivity” demonstrated? They’ve completely dehumanized the man, then blamed him for his own dehumanization. 

remember when the Harper government was trying to convince the Canadian public that releasing Omar Khadr on bail was setting a terrorist free to murder & pillage & destroy the “civilized world” but it’s been 2 months since he’s been released and all we’ve heard about him is how grateful and excited he is to move on with his life in a positive way?

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Omar Khadr lawyer statement to media following ruling

Omar Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney:

“Mr Harper is a bigot, Mr Harper doesn’t like muslims, Mr Harper I once said publicly to him, when you put your children to bed, ask yourself whether you would like your child abused like Omar Khadr. I followed that child to a grown man and I keep hearing the same mantra, its perhaps also political. He wants to show he’s tough on crime, but who does he pick on? A 15 year old boy who was picked up and put in the hell hole of Guantanamo.

i remember i was in grade 11 when i first heard about omar khadr and now abt 5 years later hes finally free. and thats so crazy that in that time i graduated high school, went through university and like 3 different jobs and interacted with maybe 100s of people and he was just rotting in a jail cell. hes missed out on so much. im so glad hes out, but hell never get those years back

The former Guantanamo Bay detainee was attacked at Edmonton Institution just after 8 p.m. on June 14 2013

He was struck in the face the moment he stepped out onto a range.

Khadr pressed his jail cell alarm for help and reported the attack to guards right away.

The guards then escorted Khadr and his alleged attacker, Kenneth Ratte, to segregation units. Khadr was not seriously injured, according to staff at the prison.

The Toronto-born Khadr, 26, was transferred to Canada last September to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence handed down by U.S. military commission for war crimes he pleaded guilty to committing as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.

He spent several months in Millhaven penitentiary west of Kingston before being transferred to Edmonton in May.

At the time, his lawyer, Dennis Edney, said someone had taken a contract out on Khadr’s life.

Edney told Postmedia News that he hoped the transfer would give Khadr “…an opportunity for a fresh start, and hopefully this will be a first step on the road to freedom..”

Khadr had asked to be jailed at Edmonton Institution when he was first transferred to Canada. A group of volunteers from Edmonton helped Khadr with his studies while he was imprisoned in Cuba.