For­mer Guan­tanamo Bay pris­oner yearns for low pro­file amid de­bate over gov­ern­ment pay­out

Hopes he will even­tu­ally be able to walk down a street and no one will no­tice

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN PERKEL

TORONTO — Sit­ting in the eye of a hur­ri­cane of fury rarely seen in Canada, for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay pris­oner Omar Khadr qui­etly speaks of a day when the dust has fi­nally set­tled and he be­comes, as he puts it, some­one on the street you don’t look twice at.

For Khadr, set­tle­ment of his long-run­ning dis­pute with Ot­tawa over breach of his rights is not about deny­ing a bleak past.

“Lis­ten, I want to be in a place where I don’t have any more le­gal cases, I don’t have any prison time, I just want to be a nor­mal per­son who doesn’t have to worry about go­ing to court,” he said. “Hope­fully, even­tu­ally, it will come.”

Still, Khadr har­bours few il­lu­sions about the anger sparked by word that Ot­tawa paid him mil­lions of dol­lars to set­tle his law­suit, or about how Cana­di­ans see him.

“I’m not a hard­ened ter­ror­ist bent on do­ing any­thing, but they don’t have to be­lieve what I say. Look at my ac­tions,” Khadr said Thurs­day, a day be­fore the gov­ern­ment an­nounced set­tle­ment of his $20-mil­lion law­suit and pub­licly apol­o­gized to him.

“It’s been a strug­gle to find jobs. The good thing about this apol­ogy for me is that it’s go­ing to re­store a lit­tle bit of my rep­u­ta­tion here in Canada.”

Speak­ing on Par­lia­ment Hill, Public Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale minced no words about Canada’s role in Khadr’s mis­treat­ment fol­low­ing his cap­ture as a badly wounded 15-year-old in Afghanistan in July 2002.

“The set­tle­ment that was an­nounced to­day has to do with the wrong­do­ing of Cana­dian of­fi­cials with re­spect to a Cana­dian cit­i­zen,” Goodale said. “You sim­ply need to read two very com­pre­hen­sive judg­ments of the Supreme Court of Canada.”

Those judg­ments re­late to Cana­dian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers trav­el­ling to Guan­tanamo Bay to in­ter­ro­gate Khadr, whom the Amer­i­cans had sub­jected to weeks of sleep de­pri­va­tion to soften him up and then shar­ing the in­for­ma­tion with U.S. agents and prose­cu­tors who would later charge him with war crimes. Video re­leased by court or­der showed a des­o­late teen weep­ing for his mother af­ter re­al­iz­ing the Cana­di­ans were not there to help him.

Khadr, 30, was adamant he’s not try­ing to deny or ex­cuse his past, but stressed his most fer­vent wish was to be a solid pro­duc­tive cit­i­zen out of the public eye. The set­tle­ment, he said, is part of that jour­ney.

“I just want to be the next per­son on the road that you don’t look twice at,” he said. “I want to work as a nurse some­where … to re­lieve peo­ple from pain. I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence with pain.”

While nei­ther Goodale nor Khadr would talk about the de­tails, sources con­firmed the gov­ern­ment has al­ready paid him $10.5 mil­lion to end the pro­tracted pro­ceed­ings — stok­ing anger among those who be­lieve the money should have gone to rel­a­tives of Sgt. Chris Speer, the U.S. Spe­cial Forces sol­dier Khadr was ac­cused of killing in Afghanistan.

The set­tle­ment is no un­de­served wind­fall — de­spite what many Cana­di­ans are say­ing, Khadr said.

“I don’t look at this as prof­it­ing. This is not a time for profit or for gain­ing or for think­ing, ‘I hit the jack­pot,’” Khadr said softly, his brow fur­rowed. “I’m sorry if this is caus­ing peo­ple pain. I’m try­ing to turn a page. Not to for­get that page, but just try­ing to turn a page and move along.”

Word of the money trans­fer came on the eve of a hear­ing Fri­day in On­tario Su­pe­rior Court aimed at en­forc­ing a $134.1-mil­lion US de­fault Utah judg­ment against Khadr from two years ago.

The suit was filed on be­half of Speer’s wi­dow, Tabitha, and an­other Amer­i­can ex-sol­dier, Layne Mor­ris.

Khadr is al­leged to have thrown a grenade that killed Speer af­ter a fierce fire­fight and bom­bard­ment by U.S. troops at a com­pound in Afghanistan in July 2002. Mor­ris was blinded in one eye in the same bat­tle.

Asked whether money should be go­ing to Speer’s fam­ily, Goodale ex­pressed sor­row for their loss but said the gov­ern­ment had noth­ing to do with that le­gal fight.

Cana­di­ans have in the past opened their wal­lets for Tabitha Speer and her two chil­dren. For ex­am­ple, the South Al­berta Light Horse Reg­i­ment Foun­da­tion, whose mem­bers served in Afghanistan, sent her $50,000 US in Oc­to­ber 2012 — a month af­ter Khadr’s re­turn to Canada from Guan­tanamo, where had he spent 10 years.

Khadr did not de­fend against the Utah suit — he was in prison in Canada at the time. Jus­tice Thomas McEwan ad­journed Fri­day’s hear­ing un­til July 13 to al­low ser­vice of ma­te­ri­als on Khadr’s lawyer, Nate Whitling, who drafted Khadr’s ini­tial claim against Ot­tawa in 2004.

The U.S. civil judg­ment was based al­most en­tirely on the fact that Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes — in­clud­ing killing Speer — be­fore a widely con­demned mil­i­tary com­mis­sion in Oc­to­ber 2010.

Khadr has long claimed to have been tor­tured af­ter U.S. forces cap­tured him in the rub­ble of the com­pound. He said he con­fessed only to be al­lowed to leave Guan­tanamo and re­turn to Canada, be­cause even an ac­quit­tal would not have guar­an­teed him his free­dom.

“The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly failed Omar Khadr,” one of Khadr’s lawyers, Den­nis Ed­ney, said Fri­day. “Omar Khadr was aban­doned in a hellish place called Guan­tanamo Bay, for 10 years, a place in­ter­na­tion­ally con­demned as a tor­ture cham­ber.”

Sup­port­ers have also long pointed to the fact that he was just 15 years old when he com­mit­ted the acts to which he con­fessed — and, there­fore, he should have been treated as a child sol­dier in need of pro­tec­tion, not pros­e­cu­tion.

Khadr is on bail liv­ing in Ed­mon­ton while he ap­peals his un­der­ly­ing con­vic­tion in the United States on the ba­sis that he was con­victed for acts that were not crimes at the time he com­mit­ted them. An end to that case still ap­pears to be years away.

COLIN PERKEL, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

For­mer Guan­tanamo Bay pris­oner Omar Khadr, 30, has been paid $10.5 mil­lion and has re­ceived an apol­ogy from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

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