Omar Khadr’s journey to this moment

‘We are both desperate,’ Khadr’s lawyer tells Michael Friscolanti. ‘I don’t know how much more this kid can handle’

Omar Khadr goes into the unknown

Janet Hamlin/Pool/Reuters

For so many years, Omar Khadr has remained a phantom. Everyone knows his name, his story, but precious few have actually seen him in the flesh. Although he turned 27 last week, his 12th consecutive birthday behind bars, most Canadians only know him as that fresh-faced teenager staring out from his passport photo.

That is about to change. More than a decade after he was shot and captured by U.S. forces in war-torn Afghanistan—and transferred to the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp—Omar Khadr is scheduled to make his first public appearance in Canada today: at a courthouse in downtown Edmonton. “He is a bit scared,” says Dennis Edney, Khadr’s longtime lawyer. “But at the same time, he wants to get out of prison, so he’s glad. The one thing he did say to me was he is looking forward to being in a real courtroom as opposed to the ones at Guantanamo.”

By now, Khadr’s journey to this moment needs little introduction. His al-Qaeda family. The firefight. The grenade that killed an American army medic. Just 15 years old when he was taken into U.S. custody in July 2002, Khadr was eventually shipped to Gitmo, where he claims to have endured years of vicious torture. Once, he said, interrogators used him as a “human mop” to clean up his urine.

Ordered to stand trial at a U.S. military commission, Khadr agreed to plead guilty in 2010 to five separate charges, including the battlefield murder of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer. The deal came with an eight-year sentence, and a promise to allow Khadr, after one more year in Cuba, to serve the rest of his term in a Canadian prison. (It actually took two years for the Harper government to approve Khadr’s transfer, and only after a Maclean’s cover story revealed the truth about a crucial jailhouse interview Khadr conducted with an American psychiatrist.)

Since returning home, Khadr has been locked in a maximum security facility, first in Ontario, now in Alberta. That designation is at the heart of today’s habeas corpus hearing. “What I’m arguing, essentially, is that Omar Khadr has been placed in the wrong institution,” Edney says. “There is no documentation whatsoever or any analysis ever done as to where they should place Omar Khadr. They just threw him in maximum security.” Simply put, Edney says Khadr is being illegally detained as an adult for crimes he committed as a youth.

If a judge agrees, Khadr could be transferred to a provincial institution, greatly improving his chances for parole. (As of July, Khadr is eligible to apply for full parole, but he is waiting until after his habeas corpus application to test the waters.) But as even Edney concedes, today’s court hearing is as much about public relations as it is about the law. “Absolutely,” he says. “Absolutely. I want people to see Omar Khadr. We only have a one-sided view of him. No one has seen him, no one has spoken to him, and in the meantime, the government continues to call him all kinds of things. They need to show that he is being justifiably treated as a terrorist, and he is not a terrorist.”

On paper, of course that’s exactly what he is: a convicted terrorist. But Edney, who has known Khadr for years—and has grown to love him like a son—is desperate to prove that his infamous client is a peaceful, harmless Canadian. Edney is so confident Khadr is not a threat that he has agreed to let him live with his family after he is freed from prison, whenever that is. “We will have him go to university, we will try to help him to readjust as a non-notorious individual known to the public, and let him get on with his life,” Edney says. “That is what he wants. He doesn’t want publicity. He just wants to disappear and get on with his life.”

Today’s court hearing, despite its dramatics, is just one more step toward that goal. When it’s over, and the satellite television trucks drive away, Khadr will do what he has done again and again: return to a cell, and wait for news.

“I think we are both desperate,” Edney says. “He is desperate to get out, and I am desperate to get him out, because I can’t continue to spend my life fighting for Omar Khadr. He turned 27 last Saturday. He’s been behind bars since he was 15. I have represented guys who did terrible deeds and they were back on the streets in five, six, or seven years. I don’t know how much more this kid can handle.”


Omar Khadr’s journey to this moment

  1. “I don’t know how much more this kid can handle.”

    Khadr is 27. When does a person stop being a “kid”?

    • “When does a person stop being a “kid?””

      Maybe when he gets the justice denied him since he was a kid? Gullible people who believe Government propaganda is why all this hate for a kid caught in a firefight. Any excuse will do for people who love to hate.

      • Khadr had taken up arms against the Queen’s enemy (Canada was fighting the Taliban, after all). Instead of terrorism, can we convict on treason?

        • Technically he does in every way qualify for a charge of “High Treason” with a possible penalty of death or litteral life behind bars.

          But find a politician with spine and judge/prosecutor is tough to do.

          • Actually, he couldn’t possibly be put to death, since Canada ended the death penalty–for treason and everything else–in 1976.

          • Which part of “He was 15 at the time” do you not comprehend?

            He was a child at the time of his crime, so should have been treated as a young offender.

            It’s funny how the “law and order’ folk have no idea about the law or even what order entails. You don’t get to change the law on a whim, because the offender is not white, not christian or if you are frightened because you don’t understand their motivation.

            I hope for your sake you never meet someone like you when you are helpless.

      • what justice, he is a terrorist and deserves to stay in jail for the rest of his life, I for one wish the american medics had not worked on him. He should be deported as he has lost his right to be a canadian citizen and his whole family should go too

        • This comment was deleted.

          • This comment was deleted.

      • Old enough to be a terrorist and murder to me qualifies as enough. In the country of the crime, he would be considered an adult. People Omar’s age have gotten Purple Hearts and Medals and Victoria Crosses….for treason, they should also be able to get jail.

    • Precisely. He’s no longer the American’s favorite whipping boy. He’s all grown up now.

    • When they pickup weapons for the enemy and become a traitor to their country.

      He should be given two choices, face trial for treason or disavow citizenship and leave Canada forever. Goes for the rest of the family too. One is stalling more charges (again) as I write.

  2. He’s been in jail 12 years and was sentenced to 8? That seems curious.

    • No credit for stalling by his lawyers. After all his slime ball lawyers know the tricks. Doing it with his brother for the second time in Toronto. Maybe Macleans can update us on his brothers court date, status and legal stalling.

      Personally, I believe credit should be almost abolished. It just help lawyers stall and bilk the system, if defense isn’t ready, all previous time credits get set to zero. Give the terrorists and criminals an incentive to get tried in a timely fashion.

      • Then what you believe is ignorant and stupid, not to mention based on a single paragraph you read in MacLeans last week.

        Can anyone who is not massively uninformed shed light on this subject?

  3. This comment was deleted.

  4. Make a deal, when Omar’s brothers lawyers stop stalling his case for the second time, then Omar can go free if he disavows Canada and leaves forever.

    Time for Canada to get tough on Khadr Family abuse of Canada.

    Pandering to this traitor IED maker/murderer is a slap in the face to CF and the injured/dead in the field.

  5. I was always under the impression that if someone takes up arms against their own country and /or allies, that it was considered an act of treason. Why was Khadr not charged with treason?

    • He was a child taken to a foreign country by his father and was fending off an attack by an invading foreign army. Please explain how that is treason or even murder?

      • This comment was deleted.

        • Have you ever noticed the correlation between bigotry and illiteracy? Oh sorry, I just used a word with more than 3 syllables. I probably lost you.

          Thanks for that Forrest Gump comment though.

  6. “I don’t know how much more this kid can handle.”…. until what? He becomes a terrorist militant against his own country… oh wait…. we’re already there, ask me if I care what happens to this “kid”

  7. He was a child soldier. He should not have been branded a terrorist and placed in the same group as adult men who make those choices of free will. He was a child, and should have been treated accordingly.

  8. He was a war combatant. A soldier. He should be afforded the rights under the Geneva convention.
    All he did was fight for his fathers country from an illegal invader.
    Let him out already. He has already served more time then most murderers in Canada.
    This is not about justice. It is politics. that is all it is.

    Americans do what Omar did every day in mass.

Sign in to comment.