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June 22, 2015

Omar Khadr's lawyer Denis Edney speaks in Toronto

Scott Stockdale

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When Canada stood alone as the only western country that refused to request the return of one of its citizens - Omar Khadr - from Guantanamo Bay, the Harper government was in effect sending Americans the message that they could do whatever they wanted with 15-year-old Mr. Khadr, according to his lawyer Denis Edney.

During a firefight on July 27, 2002, in the village of Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, in which several Taliban fighters were killed, Mr. Khadr was severely wounded. He was charged with throwing a grenade that killed Sergeant Christopher Speer, a U.S. Delta Force soldier and medic.

After a brief stay at Bagram, Afghanistan, Mr. Khadr arrived at Guantanamo Bay on October 29 or 30, 2002, suspected of being an enemy combatant.

Subsequently, he became the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed while still a minor.

His prosecution and imprisonment were condemned by the United Nations, which has taken up the issue of child soldiers.

Speaking to a packed auditorium of about 400 people at an event entitled “The Omar Khadr Story”, at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto recently, Mr. Edney said it took him five years of fighting in the courts to get the video which showed Mr. Khadr stretched out on a screen crying out for his mother, while being interrogated.

On May 23, 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that the government had acted illegally, contravening section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ordered the videotapes of the interrogation released.

Subsequently, when the video was released to the media, Mr. Edney said there was silence.

“One of our children was abused and tortured. He was waterboarded and strung up in a crucifixion pose and there was silence. This was under the then Liberal government,” Mr. Edney said.

He added that when Mr. Khadr had to urinate, guards at Guantanamo Bay used his head to pick up the urine.

Meanwhile, Mr. Edney said then Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay was telling the media that the Canadian government has been assured by U.S. officials that Mr. Khadr was being treated well.

However, in court documents submitted to a U.S. Military Commission, Mr. Khadr states that he was refused pain medication for his wounds; had his hands tied above a door frame for hours; had cold water thrown on him; had a bag placed over his head and was threatened with military dogs; was flatulated upon; and forced to carry five gallon pails of water to aggravate his shoulder wound. Not allowed to use a washroom, he was forced to urinate on himself.

Mr. Edney said there is not a single piece of evidence that Mr. Khadr threw the hand grenade he's charged with throwing. 

Joshu Claus – the chief interrogator of Mr. Khadrat Bagram - and the main witness at the U.S. Military Commission that found Mr. Khadr guilty, was later convicted of crippling one detainee and killing another at Bagram, where Mr. Khadr was initially interrogated before being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

In February 2008, at Mr. Khadr's second U.S. Military Commission tribunal, a five-page "OC-1" (pseudonym for US officer who shot Mr. Khadr twice in the back during his arrest) witness report by the CITF (Criminal Investigation Task Force) was accidentally released to reporters, which revealed that Mr. Khadr had not been the only survivor in the compound, as previously claimed, and that nobody had seen him throw the grenade.

U.S. Officials insisted that the reporters all had to return their copies of the document or face expulsion from the hearings, but after a 90-minute standoff between reporters and military officials, it was agreed that they could retain their copies of the report, but had to redact three names from the report.

Mr. Khadr didn't want to do a plea deal with the U.S. Military Commission, Mr. Edney said.

He was actually willing to stay in Guantanamo Bay because he said if he pleaded guilty, Canadians would view him as a terrorist. Mr. Edney convinced him he had to plead guilty or he would never get out of Guantanamo Bay.

“I told him the Canadian public will understand your situation and when they see you they will know.”

Mr. Edney didn't know then that after Mr. Khadr was finally transferred to Canada, the Harper government would refuse to let him be interviewed by the media.

Since his release on bail on May 7, 2015, Mr. Khadr has been staying at Mr. Edney's home in Edmonton and enrolling in summer classes at a community college.

Mr. Edney said his shoulder has been destroyed, he's blind in one eye; and he has had an operation on the other eye, which still has a piece of shrapnel in it.

Mr. Edney said there is no chance of him going back to jail as the U.S. Government has no interest in pursuing the Khadr case any further.

Subsequently, Edmonton lawyer Nate Whitling – one of Mr. Khadr 's lawyers – said a U.S. Court decision overturning the conviction of a Guantanamo Bay detainee is the “nail in the coffin” for the case against Mr. Khadr.

“It confirms that Omar spent more than 12 years in prison without legal justification,” Mr. Whitling said , confident that Mr. Khadr's case will also be overturned.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Harper - a devote Christian and outspoken advocate of Christian values  - remains unapologetic for his government's treatment of Mr. Khadr, saying: “As you all know, Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty to very grave crimes, including murder. At this time, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Sergeant Christopher Speer.”

Will history be kind to Mr. Harper when it renders its verdict on his treatment of 15-year-old Omar Khadr, in a country that used to be a beacon of human rights and protection of the dignity of the individual - values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

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