Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.
At 15 Omar Khadr was held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Now 28 years old, after 13 years locked away, he is finally able to speak about his experiences. He was branded a terrorist and convicted as a murderer.
“I don’t wish people to love me, I don’t wish people to hate me, I just wish for people to give me a chance,” Khadr says.
In 2002, during a military firefight, as a young teen, Khadr was alleged to have thrown a grenade at US troops in Afghanistan, killing one soldier. After a decade at the US-run detention camp, he was transferred to a maximum security facility in Canada.
The Canadian national was released on bail on May 7, 2015. Two years later, in July 2017, Trudeau’s government paid C10.5m ($8.1m) and offered a formal apology to compensate him for the abuses he suffered as an inmate at the military prison.
This Witness documentary, Guantanamo’s Child – Omar Khadr, is a collaboration between Al Jazeera, White Pine Pictures, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Director: Patrick Reed
Co-director: Michelle Shephard
Producers: Patrick Reed, Michelle Shephard, Peter Raymont
By Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed
For more than a decade, Omar Khadr, one of Guantanamo’s youngest detainees, has existed only as a caricature drawn and defined by others: victim, killer, child, detainee, political pawn, terrorist, pacifist.
We had a simple goal in making this documentary – we wanted to tell his story by allowing him to tell his story.
Neither of us wanted to make an activist film about Khadr, but rather bring to life the now 28-year-old man who has been used since he was 15 as a cause celebre to support post-9/11 campaigns on both the right and the left.
But this was not a simple film to make.
The Pentagon had blocked any access to Khadr for the decade he was held in Guantanamo Bay. That was not a surprise. Both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to control the narrative of Guantanamo by silencing the detainees and imposing Orwellian restrictions on reporting from the base.
What was surprising was our struggle to gain access to Khadr once he was transferred to Canada. The Canadian government refused repeated requests to interview him for two years, forcing us to finally take our case to the Federal Court. As The New York Times wrote in support of our constitutional challenge: “The public has waited long enough.”
We lost that case, but the wait finally ended with the dramatic words delivered by an Alberta judge who released him on bail May 7: “Mr Khadr, you’re free to go.”
Khadr’s history itself is compelling, but it is the larger context of his case that makes his story so important and involves the work we have both done over the years – Patrick with his films on now retired Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire and child soldiers and Michelle, with her national security reporting since 9/11 that has including 26 trips to Guantanamo Bay.
Omar Khadr is not only the youngest person ever convicted of a war crime in modern history, he is also the only person ever charged with “murder in violation of the laws of war” – despite the fact that hundreds have died in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and despite the fact it was never a war crime to kill a soldier in conflict until the US rewrote the laws of war after 9/11.
It is very likely years from now that the US courts will overturn his Guantanamo conviction, which they have done in the case of other detainees.
Khadr’s story embodies so many issues we deal with today: citizenship and identity, the politics of fear and the never-ending “war on terror”.
Confronting our own biases can be hard and Omar Khadr’s story forces us to do that.