Omar Khadr’s day of reckoning

His critics say he’s a danger; supporters say he poses no threat. Someone will be proven wrong.

Day of reckoning

AP/US Department of Defense

As always, the latest “development” in the endless Omar Khadr saga provides few definitive answers. Here’s what we know for sure: Khadr’s official application for a prison transfer—from a cage at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to a cell in his home country—is now on the desk of Vic Toews, Stephen Harper’s public safety minister. And Toews has confirmed, as reluctantly as ever, that he will sign his name to the bottom of the page. At some point.

Beyond that, the future of Canada’s most (in)famous child soldier/homicidal jihadist remains as hazy as ever.

When will the minister actually pull out his pen? When will Khadr spend his final night at Gitmo? Which Canadian prison will become his next temporary home? Could he be eligible for parole the same day his plane touches down? And when the Toronto native is eventually set free (whether it’s five months from now or five years), where exactly will he go? Will Khadr run back into the arms of his notorious family and their fanatical sympathizers? Or will the feds ask a judge to impose special conditions on the convicted war criminal, limiting his movements and dictating his associates?

Anyone who has followed this epic case already knows the answers: only time—a concept Khadr understands better than most—will tell.

But with his homecoming closer than ever (dates and details to be determined), only one question really matters: is Omar Khadr a genuine threat to his fellow citizens? Is the 25-year-old a hardened terrorist bent on revenge after a decade behind bars? Or is he truly the victim of unprecedented circumstance, desperate for a second chance and a life of anonymity? Both in court and through his lawyers, Khadr himself has repeatedly insisted that Canadians have nothing to fear. Soon, it will be time to prove it.

“He feels he has been misrepresented and mis-characterized; in fact, he is very worried about that,” says Stephen Xenakis, a Virginia-based psychiatrist who has spent hundreds of hours talking to Khadr. “Almost anyone who has had a personal encounter with him, including the guards at Guantánamo, really appreciates that this is a sensitive, caring, very considerate individual. And I don’t think people should be afraid at all. He is absolutely not a threat. It is almost irresponsible for anyone to have regarded him as a threat.”

Irresponsible? That may be a stretch. Khadr, of course, is the loyal son of the late Ahmed Said Khadr, al-Qaeda’s senior man in Canada and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. He was just 15 in 2002 when his dad dispatched him to the front lines of the Afghan war, where he was shot and captured in a firefight with U.S. forces—after admittedly tossing a grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer, a decorated army medic. Eighteen months ago, Khadr pleaded guilty to five charges, including murder, in exchange for an eight-year sentence and a promise that he could serve his time in Canada. In his own statement of facts, the cornerstone of his plea, Khadr admitted to being a loyal member of al-Qaeda obsessed with killing Americans “anywhere they can be found,” and that the “proudest moment of his life” was when he planted improvised explosive devices aimed at coalition boots.

Yet at the very same hearing, he apologized to Speer’s widow and read a moving statement to the jury. “You’re not going to gain anything with hate,” he said. “I came to a conclusion that love and forgiveness are more constructive and will bring people together.”

Does Khadr deserve forgiveness? Despite everything, is it possible for him to return to Canada and lead a low-key, crime-free life? “It sounds like such a cliché, but he really is committed to building a life for himself and is desperately looking to regain all those years that have been lost,” says John Norris, the latest in a long line of Khadr defence lawyers. “He is an intelligent, warm, engaging young man, and I think the image of him that has been perpetuated by some is quite wrong. He does not pose a threat. I truly believe that.”

Khadr’s own actions speak for themselves. (In one video clip, recorded before his capture, the teenager can be seen happily wiring together land mines and grinning for the camera.) But his lingering image as an imminent threat to national security has as much to do with his dysfunctional family, if not more. His father, killed in a 2003 shootout with Pakistani authorities, was eulogized as a martyr. His younger brother Kareem was paralyzed in the same battle, triggering a media circus when he flew home to Ontario for treatment. Another brother, Abdullah, was an alleged al-Qaeda gun smuggler wanted in the U.S., while his sister Zaynab famously told a television interviewer that she wished she had “the guts” to be a suicide bomber.

“He has to have contact with his family after all these years, that’s a given,” Xenakis says. “But he also understands that he has to find a way to go on and have an independent life. He understands that he has to reach out past his family.”

That will be easier said than done, as even Xenakis concedes, especially when Khadr comes face to face with the full extent of his celebrity—and a new world of Facebook and camera phones and Google (where a search of his name generates 708,000 hits). “This transition could be a real shock,” he admits. “But I don’t think he ever was this ‘committed jihadist,’ so I don’t think the word relapse would apply to him. He is not a violent person and never was a violent person.”

One thing is certain: whatever Khadr does on Canadian soil, someone—his harshest critics or his closest supporters—will have misjudged him.




Browse

Omar Khadr’s day of reckoning

  1. I think the premise of this article is deeply flawed. While there has been some direct support for “Omar” as a disadvantaged child soldier, most thoughtful people would agree that Khadr represents a threat that must be carefully managed. That does not in my view provide sufficient basis for discarding the concept that the Canadian government should follow judicial process (in a timely fashion) in dealing with Canadian citizens.

    The Canadian government has made an assessment that Khadr is unworthy of the rights & privileges of Canadian citizenship. (I actually agree with that assessment) However, they have reached that decision through an ad hoc and illegitimate process. That is very dangerous.

  2. Bravo, well said Sewart. I could not agree with you more

  3. Omar khadr is a traitor, he was not forced to fight for the taiban he did this on his own accord he there for gave up his canadian citizenship in doing so, canada does not owe him anything including refuge, send him back to afganistan

  4. I think its about time we brought him back. All of you racist hate mongering bigots need to look deep within yourselves. Anyone who has studied psychology coupled with Omars cultural background knows full well he was not acting on his own, and was simply an extra arm of his fathers. His father completely controlled him to the point he had no choice. This entire case was a farce, wreaking with dirty politics. Even if he was a killer at 14, lets look at what kind of time he would have done in Canada as a juvenile. To be in a cage for all of his teenage years being told what to do, first by his father then by prison guards what kind of psychological affect do you think that would have on such a young child? This is no different than blaming the abused woman in an abusive relationship….she is free she should’ve gotten out right? It’s not that simple, anyone in an abusive relationship knows this. We cannot judge this young man, especially seeing how screwed up his whole life has been.

    • Joe your a bleeding heart perhaps he can come and stay with you. He has showen no remorse and will kill again. The only question is when

      • i’d rather have a soft heart than a rock hard cold stiff heart, and I think most true Canadians have the first. There is absolutely no evidence that he will kill again and that he has no remorse, on the contrary, he HAS shown remorse and a psychiatrist who has had, no doubt, thousands of conversations and is an expert in his field is saying that he will bot be a threat. I’m sorry but I’d rather take his opinion which is backed by experience and professionalism rather than your uneducated blanket statements. As for your claims the burden of proof is on you. Just stop with your nonsense.

  5. I don’t really want the Khadr kid back in Canada but let’s keep in mind that the bigger issue is, how many more just like him are infiltrating Canada every day thanks to immigration? Do we want people like the Khadrs to be the majority in Canada and make the rules here? If not, it’s time we all spoke to our MP’s and informed them that they can forget about our support unless they support an immediate end to all new immigration.

  6. It’s OK for Barack Obama to order the murder of innocent Afghanistani’s through CIA drone strikes, It’s OK for Army grunts to slaughter innocent women and children at Hadithe then get a slap on the wrist. It’s OK for Congress to pay off corrupt Pakistani politicians, who harbour Taliban and other terrorist groups within their borders, if it serves their political purpose. But if a 15 year old boy, who when ordered by his father to join al-qeada, is caught defending himself in a firefight with some American soldiers who are trying to kill him,, they put in jail for 8 years without a fair trial on what turned out to be trumped up charges. I don’t think that this fellow has any other desire than to gain his freedom. You have more to fear from some dumbass white boy strung out on drugs, who’ll shoot your sister if she does’nt cough up some quick cash, or some dumbass redneck who insists on driving while drunk, and kills your mother and father in a crash, or some dumbass driver running a red light who mows down an old lady crossing the street. But I don’t hear anyone bitching about that.

  7. In terms of Khadr’s dangerousness: One thing we know for sure is that American officials who have had Khadr under close supervision for ten years don’t think so. They refuse to release Gtmo prisoners they consider dangerous, with or without trials, and regardless of trial results. Obama is even more afraid to release them than Bush was. The Congress has made it near impossible. The notion that they would offer a person a plea bargain and a transfer to Canada, right across the famous “porous” border, if they thought he was dangerous, is absurd. The only person who suggested Khadr would be dangerous was the Prosecution’s psychiatrist. Even he didn’t say violent. He said he could be an inspiration to others, sort of like the guy who preached Jihad in public and was the “Bin Laden” of the Internet, using a blog and Facebook. It’s hard to say how Khadr could do that without anybody noticing.

  8. He’s a convicted terrorist.Are we that naive to believe he will lead a peaceful life in our Country?.May a camel fart in his beard a thousand times.Deport radical Muslims now.

  9. He has every right to return. Zionist don’t decide. the people of Canada decide.
    Too bad Zionist!!! He is Canadian and Muslim- he will be back…as a HERO!!!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *