OMAR’S LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM
In May 2015, after 13 years of unlawful imprisonment, Omar Khadr was freed on strict bail conditions, while an appeal of his U.S. military commission ‘conviction’ is underway.
The Free Omar campaign will continue to support Dennis Edney, Omar’s pro bono lawyer, by raising legal funds for the many legal battles still ahead. The violation of Omar’s rights must be properly remedied, and Canadian officials must be held accountable for their complicity in Omar’s torture and years of unlawful imprisonment.
KEY EVENTS IN THE OMAR KHADR CASE
- Omar (now 29) was born in Toronto, Ontario.
- During his early years, the family moved back and forth between Canada and Afghanistan, where his father worked for a humanitarian organization.
- July 27, 2002 – Omar was 15 years old when the compound where his father had left him to act as a translator, was heavily bombed by U.S. forces. After the battle U.S. soldiers found Omar seriously injured and buried under rubble; they shot him twice in the back at point blank range and took him into custody.
- Omar, unconscious and blinded in one eye, was transported to Bagram U.S. Military Prison where brutal interrogations and torture marked the 3 months of his imprisonment. Under torture, he was forced to confess to the killing of a U.S. soldier during the battle.
- October 2002 – Omar was transferred to the notorious Guantanamo U.S. military prison where he spent the next decade – often in solitary confinement.
- October 30, 2010 – Omar was forced to plead guilty before an extra legal (kangaroo court) U.S. military commission in Guantanamo. He knew his only chance of freedom was to ‘confess’. Former Chief Prosecutor of the military commissions, U.S. Colonel, Morris Davis, explains the Guantanamo paradox: “You have to lose to win. Those lucky enough to get charged and convicted of a war crime have good odds of getting out of Guantanamo.”
• The trumped up ex post facto ‘crimes’ to which Omar ‘pleaded guilty’ did not exist under Canadian, U.S. or international law. Since the entire military commission process took place outside a properly-constituted court, the charges and sentencing are illegal and in fact constitute a U.S. military war crime.
- Omar is the only child ever ‘convicted’ of a war crime and the only person ‘convicted’ for any of the 7,000+ American casualties in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- September 26, 2012 – Omar was repatriated to Canada and placed in a maximum security prison even though in Guantanamo he had been classified as low risk. A Supreme Court decision in May 2015 ruled against the federal government and declared Omar should have served a youth sentence.
- May 7, 2015 – Finally after almost 13 years of arbitrary detention, several successful court challenges resulted in Omar’s release on bail, pending the appeal of his Guantanamo ‘conviction’.
- August 2015 – Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling, Omar’s defence counsel, have been named as Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers for their decade advocating for Omar Khadr on a pro bono basis.
Release on Bail
Almost immediately after Omar was freed on bail he addressed the Canadian public. Because the Canadian government had denied access to media while Omar was in prison, this was the first time the public was able to hear from him. Finally people were able to see and judge Omar for themselves which resulted in a huge outpouring of support – not only from Canadians but from people around the world. Despite the nightmare Omar has experienced, his grace, intelligence and dignity shone through. One supporter, who later wrote to the Free Omar campaign, expressed the feeling of many: “within seconds of hearing Omar speak, a decade of government demonization and lies had unravelled.” As Omar begins his new life, he is warmly welcomed and feels at home in the Edmonton community. He has received letters of support from people across Canada and worldwide.
In September 2015, the courts eased some of Omar’s restrictive bail conditions. However, the nightly curfew, supervision on his telephone calls and computer control remain constant reminders that he is not a free man.
Education and Future Plans
Omar looks forward to his future, continues to focus on his studies and is now enjoying experiences denied for so many years. As of autumn 2015 Omar is enrolled as a student at King’s University College in Edmonton. Professors there, headed by Dr. Arlette Zinck, have provided him with educational opportunities and friendship since he was in Guantanamo.
Omar’s ambition is to work in the medical field and he is currently studying to become a first responder.
UPCOMING COURT CASES
Appeal against Omar’s U.S. Conviction
On November 8, 2013, Pentagon lawyer Sam Morison filed an appeal in Washington D.C. to the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, to have Omar’s Guantanamo ‘conviction’ overturned. In similar appeals, as in Bahlul and Hamden, all convictions were dismissed as ex post facto (retroactive prosecution for crimes that did not exist at the time) and not internationally recognized. Omar’s U.S. appeal is expected to be successful for the same reasons.
Lawsuit against the Canadian Government’s Complicity in Torturing Omar
The civil lawsuit will determine whether the Canadian government conspired with the U.S. in Omar’s arbitrary detention, torture and the violation of his rights.
In 2010 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government of Canada had violated Omar’s Charter rights and that “through the conduct of Canadian officials in the course of 2003-2004 interrogations … Canada actively participated in a process contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations and contributed to his ongoing detention so as to deprive him of his right to liberty and security of his person as guaranteed by the constitution, and contrary to the principles of fundamental justice.”
BACKGROUND – AFGHANISTAN AND GUANTANAMO, 2002 – 2012
U.S. attack and war crimes
On July 27, 2002, fifteen-year-old Omar was rendered unconscious and blinded in one eye, when the U.S. Army Special Forces carried out a four hour bombardment on the compound where he was staying. When found in the rubble – unarmed and severely wounded – Omar was shot in the back by a U.S. soldier, leaving huge exit wounds in his upper left chest. “(He’s) missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating”, wrote a U.S. officer in a subsequent written account of the events.
Later, a leaked Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force report revealed that the U.S. military had doctored the field report to implicate Omar in the death of a U.S. Delta Force soldier (disguised in Afghan clothing) and erased evidence that a U.S. grenade had caused the soldier’s death. The military not only denied that the soldier had been killed by friendly fire, but also hid information that Omar in the back at close range another survivor executed.
Illegal capture and imprisonment
After his capture by U.S. forces, Omar should have been identified as a child soldier – he was fifteen and involved in a battle in a war zone – and provided with immediate protection as guaranteed by the UN Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Instead, he was illegally captured, detained, and tortured in Bagram prison until October 2002. He was then transferred to Guantanamo and held there for more than a decade – often in solitary confinement – until his delayed repatriation in September 2012 to a maximum-security institution in Canada.
The Canadian government’s complicity
Following Omar’s capture by U.S. military, the Canadian government had the obligation to demand that Omar be treated according to the Geneva Conventions with special regard for his age and be immediately returned to Canada. Instead, the government, first the Liberal and then the Conservative, were complicit in the illegal treatment of Omar. Although he was a Canadian child, he was denied the protection of fundamental rights provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada and the U.S. Supreme Court have confirmed that the U.S. and Canada have violated Omar Khadr’s rights.
The UN Committee Against Torture has called on Canada to honour its legal obligation to ensure that Omar receives redress for human rights violations that the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled he experienced.
In 2006 the U.S. charged Omar with five ex post facto offences. Not only have the accusations against him never been proven or heard by a regularly constituted court, the charges were not offences in 2002 under U.S. law and are still not offences under Canadian or International Law. As upheld in the recent Hamdan appeal, the military court in Guantanamo (or any legitimate court) is not permitted to apply law retroactively.
The Guantanamo Military Commission was created to try Omar’s case because U.S. civilian and military courts refused to hear it. In 2008, the Federal Court of Canada revealed that the U.S. had given Canada their evidence for the case and asked if Omar Khadr could be tried in Canada. The Conservative government refused, saying, “that it was unlikely he would ever be convicted in Canada”. The Guantanamo military tribunal is neither a regularly constituted court nor a court intended to conduct fair trials. Under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is an offence to impose a sentence in the absence of a determination by a regularly-constituted court.
In October 2010, Omar accepted the “get-out-of-Guantanamo plea deal” offered by his U.S. captors and pleaded guilty to the five ex post facto charges. After maintaining his innocence while enduring eight years of extreme torture, Omar understood that pleading guilty was his only way out of Guantanamo.
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke by telephone with Omar in July 2014. He said “It is unconscionable that Omar Khadr, following a travesty of a trial, where he was treated as an adult in a vicious kangaroo court, should be languishing in jail” and that “His own country Canada should be an accomplice in holding him in prison. This is an example of a horrible miscarriage of justice and that in a modern democratic state. [Omar] struck me as a very gentle and caring and courteous human being who does not belong where he is at present. The Canadian authorities would do their stature much good if they released him immediately.”
- LGen Romeo Dallaire has stated that his abililty to defend the rights of child soldiers is severely hampered in countries like Uganda and Congo, while Canada itself imprisons their own child soldier. In his May 8, 2015 statement on Omar Khadr he says: “… 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.”
- Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, has defined Omar Khadr as a child soldier in a 2010 letter to the military commission in Guantanamo and he is entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not imprisonment.
To help Omar fight his legal cases, please donate at FREE OMAR FUND