Canadian-born national who was once the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay is freed after 13 years in jail for murder.
I have covered Omar Khadr’s incarceration and legal battles since 2004, when the United States first convened the controversial military commissions to try inmates at Guantanamo Bay.
As the youngest prisoner at the US military base in Cuba, he was seen by rights groups as a juvenile, and entitled to much more lenient treatment than he was receiving.
But neither Canada’s government nor Washington agreed. Omar was subjected to brutal treatment on his way to Guantanamo and at the base detention centre.
Canada not only condoned such treatment, it sent spies and diplomats to take part in his interrogation and obtained information that the Supreme Court of Canada later declared inadmissible because it was obtained under duress, even torture.
In 2010, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to five so called “war crimes” before a military commission, in exchange for a plea-bargained eight-year sentence.
It was understood that he would be transferred to Canada soon, and he was, in 2013. From the time of the verdict against him, it was clear that the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no intention of working to improve conditions or monitor treatment of this young Canadian.
So almost every attempt by his legal team to get him home, to get him better treatment and obtain bail while he appealed his US conviction, was opposed with all the resources that Ottawa could muster.
Ministers said they were “keeping Canadians safe” from someone who committed a “heinous crime” and was involved in terrorism.
But Khadr’s Edmonton, Ablerta-based lawyers, Nathan Whitling and Dennis Edney, kept fighting as they represented him in courts in Guantanamo Bay, the US and Canada.
Almost every legal case they fought went in Khadr’s favour. Last month, in a decision that surprised many, an Alberta court agreed to their request to grant bail to Omar Khadr while his appeal against his military commission convictions moves through the Pentagon’s review process.
Ottawa immediately sought a stay on bail, even though Khadr has a parole hearing that could set him free in June. That was refused, and as Judge Myra Bielby put it, “Mr. Khadr, you’re free to go”.
Not quite. He has pretty strict bail conditions. He’ll wear an ankle monitor to keep track of his movement. Living with lawyer, Dennis Edney, he’ll have limited contact with his own family in Toronto.
His internet access will be restricted and monitored. And he’ll have to be back in court for yet another appeal by Ottawa against bail in September.
Then there is the US review of his case, which could take longer than his actual sentence of eight years and is not being taken all that seriously by the Canadian courts.
Still, tonight and for several months at least, Omar Khadr will sleep in a bed in a home, go for walks and exercise as a relatively free man.
He will eat meals cooked at home and in restaurants. Occasionally, he’ll go on family trips to the Edney cottage in British Columbia.
And of course, he’ll continue to study for his high school diploma which he could get this year or next. After that, Edmonton’s Kings University College has said he’s welcome to study there if he so chooses.
Of course, that normal life that he’s hoping for is dependent on legal cases in Canada and the US. The one legal case that everyone here is watching closely might end up the most significant of all.
Omar Khadr is suing Canada’s government for about $50m, alleging violation of fundamental rights, allowing torture by US forces and for treating him like an adult offender when he was arrested as a child.
If indeed he is cleared of all charges by the US military commissions review process, than his case is almost a sure thing. He’ll likely be a rich man.
Ottawa’s vehemence in pursuing him through the courts and rhetorically in public can only add to his case.