By: Catherine Griwkowsky
Omar Khadr is a victim.
That’s what retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative executive director Shelly Whitman have said in a statement following the release of Khadr, 28, on bail on Thursday.
In the statement Dallaire and Whitman said he was a child soldier, not a terrorist.
“Recruited at 13 years old, then shot and taken prisoner two years later, the story of Omar Khadr has been nothing if not infuriating,” the statement reads.
“As a child, Khadr was forced to move to Afghanistan and join al-Qaeda by his father. It is believed that during a raid on Khadr’s compound, the 15-year-old threw a grenade, killing Sergeant Christopher Speer, a Delta Force strategic forces soldier and medic. Eight years later, he pleaded guilty under duress. But over the past decade, Khadr’s rights have been violated time and again. From the very beginning, he has been denied the right to due process and a fair trial, the right to protection from torture and — perhaps most appallingly — the rights stemming from the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
The letter says Khadr deserves a chance “to be educated, to be loved, and to be forgiven,” saying he deserves the same Canadian-government-funded rehabilitation as other child soldiers.
On Thursday, in his first interview since being released from custody, Khadr said he was “very happy” to be free and that he wants to prove to Canadians that he is better than how the authorities have portrayed him.
Alberta’s highest court released the former Guantanamo Bay detainee on bail pending the appeal of his convictions in the United States.
The judge rejected an application by the federal government for a stay of Khadr’s release until it can appeal his earlier bail decision.
Khadr had been behind bars for nearly 13 years. As part of his bail conditions, he must reside at defence lawyer Dennis Edney’s west Edmonton home, where he will remain under strict restrictions including wearing an electronic tracking bracelet.
Edney criticized the federal government for allowing a Canadian boy to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay and accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of being a “bigot,” saying Harper “doesn’t like Muslims.”
Khadr was ordered released on bail by a lower court judge on April 24, however the federal government applied for a stay of the ruling until they can appeal it. An appeal hearing is likely to be heard in the fall.
Khadr was serving an eight-year prison sentence in Bowden Institution as a result of a 2012 international transfer agreement with the United States, but was seeking release pending the determination of an appeal of his U.S. convictions by a military commission.
Khadr, originally from Toronto, pleaded guilty in the U.S. in 2010 to murder and four counts related to terrorism and spying. The charges came as a result of the role Khadr played in the 2002 killing of a U.S. special forces medic during a firefight in Afghanistan when he was 15. He spent a decade at Guantanamo Bay before his trial.