This is a first-person report by citizen journalist Sandra Der from the scene of Omar Khadr’s bail hearing in Edmonton. Khadr was only 15 when the actions which led to his detention took place in Afghanistan. Khadr was apprehended by American forces after being shot twice in the back by a still-unnamed “high ranking US official.” Although he begged for death, they saved him for prison. He was arrested, charged, and found guilty of throwing a grenade which killed an American medic, although there was another man nearby (who was killed in the firefight) who could have thrown the grenade as well. He was also convicted of having planted land mines. He endured ten years of “enhanced interrogation” including eight years in Guantanamo Bay prison, and subsequently pled guilty to additional war crimes. As part of the plea deal, which included eight more years of detention, he was repatriated to Canada September 29, 2012, and has been eligible for parole since 2013. Because he was being held in Maximum Security, however, he was not paroled when he became eligible; in Canada, one must first “step down” to a position of lesser security as a prisoner. He is now in a medium security institution, and thus the parole hearing convened in Edmonton.
He was the last Western prisoner in GITMO, and is the first child soldier since WWII to have been charged with war crimes.
Over the past 13 years, I remember hearing and reading various media reports on Omar Khadr. At the time, I had a feeling something didn’t seem right. Even though I could have discussed “torture for evidence,” I had a lot more questions. When I heard from supporters that Khadr’s parole hearing was at Edmonton Court of Queen’s bench, this was my opportunity.
I attended both mornings and followed along on social media when I couldn’t attend. As with any event, I checked Twitter to see if there was any news regarding the case. I saw one tweet that cancelled the hearing because Omar wasn’t able to attend, and another one saying he left Bowden Institution, a medium security prison, at 7:30 am and was en route to the courthouse [editor’s note: this is similar to OpGCHQ in the UK, where activists were met at the train and on social media and told that the demonstration had been cancelled]. There were some people who preferred that Omar stayed in jail but they were few. Most didn’t say anything. Being on Twitter, I realize that not all things are true, but some things resonate more, so I shared the information with people who were waiting for the hearing.
Before both days of the hearing, a group of Khadr’s supporters met at Three Banana’s Cafe to show a united front. Everyone wore wore orange ribbons to symbolize the jumpsuits that victims of Guantanamo were require to wear.
By 10:20 am on the first day there were 50+ Supporters, 12 media personalities, 7 security guards as well as both legal counsels and court personnel, in a small courtroom. Right before Omar and the Judge were ready to appear, we were quickly ushered into a larger courtroom. This allowed for more spectators, like the two high school classes that joined and then left the proceedings. Age of the crowd ranged from late teens to late 70s. Some spectators were in Muslim dress, but most were the usual “Western” standard dress.
With the rush and furor of the courtroom move, I didn’t notice Omar had entered the courtroom and defendant’s box until after we rose in respect to Judge June Ross entering the courtroom. All I could see of him was from his shoulders upward.
He looked small in the large box. He was hardly a monster. Seven guards stood behind him and for a brief period of time during the hearing, there were no guards. It didn’t matter; Omar hardly moved. A great word to define him was “serene.” He looked attentive and alert. The only time that changed was when he smiled at the defense team. His smile lit up his face, and then he returned to his previous attentive expression.
The media sat in the witness stand, across from the defendant’s box. Since they were the only group allowed to use devices during the hearing, they had to be segregated. Half of them were live-tweeting while the other half were busy writing. Press included local media, CBC, Global, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Macleans, and National Post. Two courtroom artists from Globe and Mail and CTV were busy rendering Khadr’s likeness. Their pencils made noise as they worked quickly to meet their tight deadline.
On Khadr’s defense team, Dennis Eddey hardly spoke, since he sounded like he was recovering from a cold or flu. Nathan Whitling spoke for the defines team, and Bruce Hughson for Federal government. Sam Morrison, Khadr’s US Lawyer, sat behind the defense team. Right out of the starting gate, the defense was ready to argue the constitutionality of posting bail. Hughson slowed the wagon a little by saying the person responsible isn’t in attendance and will come tomorrow.
Hughson focused on a few key points:
- Signing a plea deal in effect signed away Habeas Corpus.
- Federal government agreed to 8 years and continued enforcement.
- Concerns about future detainees.
- Concerns about foreign partners.
- Benefit unfairly, for those left behind.
- Protection of state.
- Concerned other prisoners, using Canada as a loophole.
Hughson kept pronouncing Khadr’s name as Ka-DARR, like guitar. It was very pronounced. No one else pronounced it this way. I’m not sure if he was aware of it.
Hughson was surprised when Edney mentioned that in the United States, many ex-Guantanamo victims have used habeas corpus. Judge Ross concurred. Hughson seem surprise and then mentioned he didn’t know. A few of us had a little laugh watching this.
Whitling gave a great closing statement by countering the Federal prosecutor. Will the United States be upset? We have no idea what the United States thinks. They haven’t said anything. They may be content to let the courts decide. In the United States, bail happens all the time and it’s consistent with treaties. Merits of Appeal in United State have offered sentence reductions. Merit of reduction was 1/8 years. Also the statutory release date was October 2016. At the latest, Omar is out of prison in the fall of 2018.
Judge Ross reserved her decision. She gave no particular timetable for her decision being delivered. If Omar is granted the decision, I’m sure the Crown will appeal. There may be more dates. To me, it was a promising end of the hearing. All we can do is remain hopeful. Omar could be free to live the life as a student at King’s University and live with his lawyer, Dennis Edney, and his family.
Its not radical, it’s the dream of many students to pursue their educational desire.