The secret Khadr Tapes | interview with Welner

These are the tapes that Vic Toews demanded before he allowed Omar’s repatriation to Canada. Populist hate groups had convinced Toews it would proof how bad Omar was. Well it proved the opposite. Eight years of injustice later, Omar’s gentle and peaceful nature is as evident as ever through his words.

This is the ‘interview only’ version of the Macleans article ‘The secret Omar Khadr file’ by Michael Friscolanti | September 27 2012

Here you read Khadr’s and Welner’s own words, no further opinions. 

(The dark gray sentences explain the situation and are sometimes slightly modified due to the removal of the opinion part; In red our text)

Context: On June 15 and 16, 2010 psychiatrist Welner did a 7 hour interview with Omar Khadr (24), to prepare himself as a witness for the prosecution, during Omar Khadr’s sentencing hearing at a Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay in October 2010.

This interview gave Welner rise to testify that Omar Khadr was “full of rage” and “highly dangerous”- a “rock star” at Guantanamo Bay who has “expressed zero remorse”, one who has spent years “marinating in a community of hardened and belligerent radical Islamists” and is therefore “an al-Qaeda royalty.”

Judge for yourself :

June 15 2010, the first day of the interview


“If I had to ask you about the five worst memories that you have in your life, what are they?” Welner asked him.

“Well, there is one huge, horrible memory and it’s still going, which is where we are right now,” Khadr answered. He was sitting in a chair, his feet chained to the floor.

“What do you mean?” Welner asked.

“Well, if I get released, I wouldn’t want to remember this place.”

“You mean Guantánamo?”


As they spoke, a video camera recorded their every word.

“What are the five things that you most regret in your life?” Welner asked.

“Regrets?” Khadr replied.


“I don’t think I had a choice in my life to regret anything, because I didn’t make any choices to regret them.”

“What would you say the five worst things you’ve done in your life have been?”

“I don’t blame myself for anything that I didn’t have a choice to do.”

“But I asked you a different question,” Welner said. “We’re talking about the regret. What would you say are the five worst things that you’ve ever done?”

“That’s going to have to be somebody who has more experience to say what I did was wrong or not,” Khadr answered.

Welner asked Khadr what he misses most about his former life.

“Being loved,” he answered, his voice barely a whisper.

“Pardon?” Welner said.

“Being loved,” Khadr repeated.

“Do you think about that a lot?”

“I try not to think about my miseries.”

For a moment, Khadr rested his head on the table in front of him, filling the room with a brief silence. As he reached for a tissue, wiping his nose and his eyes, Welner continued to ask about his hopes and desires.

“There’s lots of things I miss,” Khadr replied, now sitting back up. “I miss being trusted.”

“Can you help me understand that a little more?” Welner asked.

“Nobody trusts me, and they don’t trust me because of something I didn’t do or I was made to do. I was never given a chance.”

“So, you miss feeling loved and you miss being trusted. Whom else do you miss and what else do you miss?

“I miss my family and the sense of security,” he said.

“Why do I get a sense that you don’t really feel close to anybody in this world?”

“How can I be close to anybody?” Khadr replied. “I’m trying. It just doesn’t feel that anybody is giving me his hand.”

Khadr explains he is: a “child” thrust into war, exploited by “everybody” and haunted by nightmares and a “very peaceful person,” he longs to return to Canada—“a place that I could call home”—and move on with his life. (At one point, he reminisced about the girl he hoped to marry, a young friend he met shortly before his capture). Khadr insists, repeatedly, that he did not actually kill anyone that day, and provides fresh details about the torture he has allegedly endured during his decade in U.S. custody. The conversation also suggests that Khadr has endured some form of sexual abuse, either at the hands of adult jihadists in Afghanistan or fellow detainees at Gitmo.

Beginning of the interview 

“Well, nice to meet you,” he told Khadr, settling into his chair.

“Me too,” Khadr said.

A lean man with dark hair and a deep voice, Welner explained how he’d been poring through the case file, and had a lot of questions to ask. “You’ve been in the system for a while,” he said.

“Yeah,” Khadr answered. “I bet you’ve had a lot of reading to do.”

“I am not going to mislead you into thinking I am here to help you,” Welner told Omar. “But I am here to tell you that I do take what I do seriously, and what’s most important to me is that I be fair and accurate.”

“That’s the only thing I ask for,” he said.

Khadr explained how he only lived in Toronto for two years of his life: first grade and fourth grade. He spent the rest of his childhood in Pakistan, dropping out of school, like his older brothers, after the eighth grade. (“It’s like a cursed grade,” he said.) Fluent in four languages (Arabic, English, Pashto and Farsi), Khadr said he translated for his father as he travelled through war-torn Afghanistan, to check on his orphanages. Often, his dad would lecture the family about how lucky they were. “My father said: ‘You know, you have to be thankful, you know. You have your parents. These poor kids don’t have their parents.’ ”

[About his brother Abdurahman:] “As he says about himself, he’s the black sheep,” Khadr told Welner, when asked about his older brother. “He has a very tender heart, but he’s very, very stubborn. He likes to brag about himself. He doesn’t like to be bound by anything . . . That’s why, you know, he had a lot of problems with my dad. You know, he just likes to do whatever he wants to do.”

“How did your father respond to that?” Welner asked.

“In different ways, you know? Hit him sometimes, punch him sometimes, talk to him sometimes. Just like a normal father.” (As for Abdurahman’s suicide bomber story, Omar insisted it’s “not even true.”)

One by one, Welner asked about each of his siblings.

Zaynab? She was like a second mother, Khadr said, someone he shares a “very, very close” bond with. “There is nothing I can say poorly about my sister,” he explained, adding later: “She does what she believes, and she says what she believes. She’s very confident in what she believes.”

Abdullah? He was the “sensible” one “who would not break any rules.” At the time of their interview, Abdullah was in a Toronto jail, fighting extradition to the U.S. on charges that he provided weapons to be used against coalition troops in Afghanistan. “I think he’s being locked up unfairly,” Omar said. “I don’t believe he did anything because I know my brother.” (An Ontario judge later refused to approve Abdullah’s extradition, citing the “gross misconduct” of U.S. officials.)

Kareem? “From what I know,” Omar said, “he was with my dad when my dad died, and he was trying to run away and he got shot from the back.”

“What are your thoughts and your feelings about that?” Welner asked.

“I try not to think about it,” Khadr answered. “When I start thinking about it, I get sad and I get—bad memories come to me, so I just try not to remember it.”

Welner told Khadr that as far as he understood, his father was an al-Qaeda leader killed alongside fellow terrorists, and that his little brother, just 14 at the time, was at his side. Omar, though, was defiant, demanding to know the source of Welner’s information. Over and over, he defended his dad. “I can say he’s not an al-Qaeda, and I can base my beliefs on actual facts,” he said. “I was living with my father, and I saw him.”

Welner continued. “Were you surprised when your father passed away?”

“I was sad,” Khadr answered.

“Were you surprised?” he asked again.

“What do you mean by surprised?”

“Surprised. Were you shocked?”

“I was very sad.”

Welner pressed harder. “You didn’t answer the question.”

“I don’t know,” Khadr said. “I was very sad, that’s all I can answer.”

Khadr said he hasn’t thought about his dad “for longer than 10 seconds” since the day he heard about his death.

“Not one time at all?” Welner asked.

“Not one time.”

“Does that surprise you?”

“It’s better for me,” Khadr said.


“Because it brings lots of sadness. And being in a place like this, you know, trying to decrease the amount of sadness and pressure you have on yourself.”

“Do you think your father would be proud of you if he were alive?” Welner continued.

“I don’t think I did anything that he would have told me not to do,” Khadr said.

“So, the answer is yes?”

“I hope so.”

“Do you watch the news?” Welner asked.

“Not too much.”

“What does ‘not too much’ mean?”

“Well, I used to listen to the news, but there is too much tragedy,” Khadr said. (He prefers watching sports networks.)

“What do you think are the biggest problems in the Muslim world?”

“I think the biggest problem in the Muslim world is they’re not being good Muslims,” Khadr replied.

“Can you help me understand that better?” Welner asked.

“Well, I relate to the Prophet, right? And there’s nobody that—in the Islamic history—there is nobody who had a better relationship with the Jews and Christians than the Prophet or with, you know, un-Muslim people . . . We are supposed to be like him, but people are not like him.”

“What can Muslims do differently to change that?”

“I’m sure there’s lots of things that can change, but I don’t know.”

“What do you think of 9/11?” Welner asked.

“It was a tragedy,” Khadr replied.

“What made it tragic?”

“The killing of innocents is tragic.”

“Do you think that the United States deserved it?”

“That’s not up to me to say, but as I told you, I don’t believe in killing innocent people.”

“Well, do you have an opinion?”

“No innocent person deserves to die or be killed,” Khadr said. “That’s all I’m going to say. Americans, Muslims, Jewish, Mormons, whatever; human soul is sacred and each that must be protected and not abused. So for me, a human soul is a human soul, regardless of its religion, of its country. They’re all protected.”

“What do you think it would be like for you, as a devout Muslim, living in Canada?” Welner asked, a few minutes later.

“I’d practise my religion, and everybody can practise his own religion,” Khadr answered.

“Do you feel that it’s easy to practise your religion in a devout way there?”

“Well, I hope nobody would tell me not to practise my religion, but I think I have confidence that Canada is not going to try to harm me if my religion—”

Welner cut him off. He had read some of the letters Khadr received from his family, and how “they’re very offended by some of the things that they see” in Canada. “Of course, there’s freedom of religion there,” Welner said. “But how is it going to be for you in an environment where people may be doing things that are just offensive to you?”

“Well, I think you’ve come to know that I am okay around anybody,” Khadr answered. “And I can live with anybody, you know? If you’re not going to harm me personally, then you can do whatever you want to . . . Everybody has the right to do whatever he wants to do, as long as it’s not going to harm me.”

As they continued talking, Khadr conceded that his family has had difficulty “getting blended into the community.”

“Do you think that’s possible?” Welner asked.

“For them to blend?” Khadr replied.

“Yeah, or do you think that things are sort of as they are, and that next time somebody gets arrested for an al-Qaeda plot, it’s just going to blow back up to the community and make it that much more difficult for them to get integrated?”

“Unfortunately, that’s what’s probably going to happen,” Khadr said. “One of my hopes is, like, people can get over this connecting anything terrorist with Muslims. Like, like, right now, anything that has anything to do with terrorists, they always look to Muslims . . . So I wish that, you know, that people would get over this, like, paranoia of Muslims, you know, that they’re trying to put every blame on them, you know?”

“Do you understand why people in the United States and Canada make an association between terrorism and Muslims?”

“I understand, yes,” Khadr replied. But people need to be more “open-minded,” he said. “You know, a million Muslims can do something bad, but it doesn’t mean that this million and one person is bad, too. We have to reach that mentality to consider ourselves modernized people and civilized people.”

In the summer of 2008—six years after the firefight, and still in prison—Omar Khadr signed his name to a nine-page affidavit that outlines, in appalling detail, the alleged torture he has suffered at the hands of his American jailers. Barking dogs. A bag over his head, wrapped tightly around his neck. “Extremely bright lights” aimed at his badly wounded eyes. “Several times,” he wrote, “the soldiers tied my hands above my head to the door frame or chained them to the ceiling and made me stand like that for hours at a time.” One guard, he said, “farted in my face.”

Khadr was flown from Bagram, Afghanistan, to Guantánamo Bay in October 2002, barely a month after his 16th birthday. “I did not want to expose myself to any more harm, so I always just told interrogators what I thought they wanted to hear,” he wrote. Still, Khadr claims, the torture continued. Isolation. Sleep deprivation. No Koran in his cell. According to the affidavit, one interrogator spit in his face, pulled his hair, and threatened to send in another associate—“Soldier Number 9”—to rape him. “The interrogator told me, ‘Your life is in my hands.’ ”

During the interview, Welner asked Khadr to talk about the torture, to share his experiences in his own words. “Can my affidavit do these things?” Khadr replied.

“No,” Welner answered. “I’ve read it.”

“See, because I don’t like going through these bad memories.”

“I understand,” he said. “But I’m a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist who doesn’t go through this with you is unprofessional.”

“Even if it causes your patient harm and pain?” Khadr asked. “They tried lots of methods on me,” he said. “They’d try one thing, then they’d try something else, and then they’d try something else.”

Once, he said, guards locked him in a cell where “you can’t see the sun” and “you had to scream to actually hear anyone.” Another time, he was used as a “human mop” to clean up his own urine. Repeatedly, Khadr said, guards short-shackled him to the floor—arms tied behind his legs—and left him there. When his father died, interrogators showed him his photo “just to hurt me.”

“They brought you a picture of him dead?” Welner asked.

“Yes,” Khadr answered. “They were, like, trying to make fun of me: ‘Oh, you are crying. Oh, your eyes are teary.’ And they said: ‘Oh, your father was a big terrorist and we caught him.’ ”

“What was your reaction to that?”

“I didn’t answer them.”

“How did it affect you?”

“It was very painful, but I detached myself.”

Welner continued to ask Khadr how the torture has impacted him. “I really don’t know how to put it in words,” he said. “I was tortured. This is the only way I can explain it.” He was so upset by the question that he asked to change the topic.

They talked about the Canadian government. (“I was expecting them and my father were going to help me,” Khadr said.) About his family saying they are “proud” of him. (“They’re being misled.”) About being influenced by older detainees. (“In the beginning they were successful,” he said. “Right now nobody can influence me to do anything.”)

Welner asked if other prisoners ever threatened him for talking to interrogators. “I always felt very unsafe,” Khadr answered.

“Can you help me understand that?”

Khadr hesitated. “I don’t like to talk about this certain subject.”

“Well, that’s a good way to get me interested in it,” Welner said.

“I know, but—”

“Do you understand why I need to know that?”

“Yeah,” Khadr answered. “The defence doctors, they tried to get me to talk about this. It’s just, I don’t want to talk about this specific subject.”

“About feeling unsafe from other detainees?”

“In a specific way,” Khadr said.

“You mean about sexual assault?”

“Let’s talk about another subject.”

Welner kept pressing. “This is something I need to understand,” he said.

“I think I prefer to move over this certain subject,” Khadr repeated.

“Do you still feel unsafe?”

“I will always feel unsafe,” he said.

“I know that sexual conduct happens here,” Welner said. “It happens in every custodial environment.”

“Can we change the subject please?”

Again, Welner persisted. “Do you understand why we all as doctors would be curious to know about that? Is there anything that we can do to make you safer here?”

“Get me out of this place,” Khadr replied.

Behind bars, Omar Khadr has memorized every verse of the Koran. (“I had nothing else to do,” he told Welner.) He has immersed himself in other literature, too, from  Harry Potter to Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom to steamy Danielle Steele novels. He has also read Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, the story of a 13-year-old who was forced into the Sierra Leone army, ordered to kill, but later rehabilitated. “He’s done, like, 10 times worse things than the thing I’m accused of doing,” Khadr said. “But he was given a chance in life to prove himself, and I was not.”

June 16, 2010, the second day of the interview

Welner brought along a copy of a home video—recovered from the rubble of the compound after Khadr’s capture—it shows a smiling teenager wiring improvised explosive devices and helping to plant them under the cover of darkness.

“Can I just ask what’s the point of watching this thing?” Khadr asked.

“Because I think it’s something that’s important,” Welner replied.

“No, no, but what does it have to do with me?” Khadr said.

“Because you’re in it,” Welner said. “What’s it like to watch it?”

“I don’t like to watch it,” Khadr said. “I believe that people are trying to hurt me more than I deserve.”

In one scene, Khadr is sitting beside the group’s leader, Abu Laith al-Libi, taping wires. “One of the things that I noticed is that you’re assembling these explosives,” Welner said. “Could you tell me about the whole process of [Laith] teaching you to do this?”

“Well, he didn’t teach me,” Khadr said. “As you can see, it’s only taping wires. I don’t think it needs any teaching.”

“Would you hand these explosive materials to Zaynab?” Welner asked, referring to his sister. “Or would you give her some sort of instruction; perhaps be concerned for her safety, and make sure that she can handle these in a responsible way?”

“Are you trying to be sarcastic?”

“No. I’m trying to be straightforward with you. Are you suggesting to me that he just handed you explosive materials and said: ‘Here, take this,’ with him sitting in the room a few feet away?”

“Please don’t put my sister in anything like this, because this doesn’t have to do anything with my sister or my family,” Khadr said.

Pressed again about the video clip, he asked his own question. “Do you have any experience of al-Qaeda’s people?”

“I don’t know that that answers my question,” Welner said.

“Well, I’m going to get to it,” Khadr said.

“Okay. Well then please answer the question because this is your opportunity to educate me about what I may not understand about your experience there.”

“First thing, al-Qaeda doesn’t care about you—if you’re a kid. If they cared about me, they wouldn’t be putting me in such a position. And I think that’s very obvious you don’t put a kid with explosives if you care about them, right? That’s the first thing.”

“Do you think Abu Laith cared about himself?” Welner asked.

“He had his goals and he wanted to accomplish them,” Khadr said.

“You’re sitting five feet away from him with explosives.”


“Even if he doesn’t care about you, do you think he doesn’t care about his own safety?”

“Yeah, he does,” Khadr said, trying to explain the contradiction. “Explosives need a detonator to detonate these explosives. If you don’t have a detonator, then there’s no risk. You can have a whole room full of explosives; if you don’t have a detonator, then it’s safe. So that’s the second point. The third point, I told you, I was a translator for a long time and they were teaching Afghans how to do these things, and translating I’ve learned how to do these things. Make any sense?”

Khadr was still at the Bagram airbase, blind in his left eye and recovering from his wounds, when interrogators first showed him that bomb-making video. When Welner asked about that specific interview, Khadr said he couldn’t remember it. “I was under lots of stress and I was under a lot of medications,” he said.

Welner asked him to describe the stress. “I think you government people like to see me tortured,” Khadr replied. “If not physically, you like to see me tortured.”

“Do you feel that it’s psychological torture to show you this video?” Welner asked.


“Tell me how that is.”

“It’s painful. I told you, like, four times already.”

“You can’t have it both ways,” Welner said, a few minutes later. “Either you do remember things or you don’t. And if you remember, well then talk to me about what you remember, and that includes whatever you experienced that’s painful to you . . . But if you decide that you want to say that you don’t remember because you’re being cagey and you want to manage the interview—”

“What’s cagey?” Khadr asked.

“That you’re being tactical. I’m just asking you questions. Either you remember that period or you don’t.”

“The American government has lost its wing,” Khadr said.


“The American government has lost its wing,” he repeated. “Tactics? I’ve been held as a child, and you’re talking about tactics. When do you think I had the chance to learn tactics?

“I was afraid,” Khadr continued. “That’s all I need to tell you.”

“Okay,” Welner said. “When you tell me that you were afraid when this video was shown, can you tell me about what kinds of fears came to mind?”

“I was afraid to be tortured, more than what I was.”

“When you say tortured, what did you expect was going to happen to you once this video [was] shown to you?”

“Rape, abuse, physical torture; everything would come to my mind,” Khadr said.

“So have you been raped prior to that point?” Welner asked.

“I’d been threatened.”

“Okay. And did you expect that once this videotape was shown that you then would be raped afterwards?”

“Anything was possible,” Khadr said.

“Had you been raped in the past?”

“I don’t want to answer that.”

“Because I’m under the impression that you had been sexually assaulted in the past and the reports of the defence mental health experts suggested that you had.”

“I’m not answering this question,” Khadr said, again. “I would rather skip it.’

“You understand, though, why I’m asking the question,” Welner said.

“I understand,” Khadr answered. “That’s why sexual threat is very sensitive to me. I’m not going to go into any more details.”

“Were you sexually abused by Abu Laith?”

“I’m not going to answer this question.”

“Were you sexually abused by anyone in the family?”

“I don’t want to talk about anything of this sexual abuse,” Khadr insisted. “Why don’t we just go to the next subject?”

Welner said that as a mental health professional, it’s his job to examine “the impact of different things” on his life. “If I or anyone else is getting to know you and doesn’t have a feeling for what happened, then an evaluation is incomplete,” he said. “And that’s why I’m asking the questions.”

“I’m not going to talk about the subject,” Khadr repeated. “You’re a professional, you can make your own conclusions on what you think is true.”

Khadr’s defenders have pointed the finger at his father, blaming him for his son’s fate. But Omar himself does not subscribe to that storyline. “I don’t believe that my father sent me knowing that my life was going to be in danger,” he said. “And secondly, I don’t think my father thought that anybody would use his kids and things.”

According to Khadr’s version of events, his family was always translating for Arab friends living in Afghanistan, and Abu Laith’s request for his services was nothing out of the ordinary. “We like to help people in translating because we are privileged with this talent: multi-language,” he said. “So I don’t think that my father thought that they were going to use me in a way that might endanger my life because it never happened in the past.”

There were moments in the interview, very briefly, when Khadr described the events of July 27, 2002, when he was a 15-year-old.  They talked about the firefight. People handed him a weapon,  told him to stand outside and “started dragging me around” after the bombs started falling.

“I haven’t asked you this directly and so I want to understand it,” Welner said. “How do you feel like you are a victim in this?”

“Well, all the way to the beginning, being used to accomplish other people’s goals; that’s a victim,” Khadr said. “At Bagram, people wanted information and so I was the victim. Right now, in this military commissions, I’m only being charged because I’m the only survivor and there’s a dead body and there have been bad things that happened, and there’s no other survivor to blame but me. So I’m a victim. I’ve been a victim from the beginning.”

“Did you ever brag here about killing an American?” Welner asked.


“So anyone who would’ve documented this would be lying?”

“If I said that after a torture, then that’s not reliable,” Khadr replied. “But me saying with my heart that I’m happy because this person is dead? No.”

Near the end of the interview, Welner asked a few more questions about Canada. “It’s a country I can call home,” Khadr said.

“And when you say it’s a country you could call home, what do you mean by that?”

“I can’t say, like, Afghanistan was my home or Pakistan is my home. But I can say Canada is my home. You go back to it.”

“It’s a place you can go?”


“Okay,” Welner said. “Where would you live in Canada, if you could?”

“Probably in Toronto,” he said. “Obviously, I’m going to live around my family.”

“So you expect to live around your family?”

“I guess,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I won’t live anywhere else, though. I haven’t thought about it.”

“If you didn’t go to Canada, where would you prefer to live?” Welner continued.

“Anywhere,” said Khadr, still chained to the floor. “Probably I could live anywhere.”

If you could change anything about Canada, Welner continued, what would it be?

“That’s a good question,” Khadr said. “I would enhance their human rights field.”

“How so?”

“To make a law applicable on everybody, and to try not to make any difference between anybody in getting their rights.”

Welner wrote his findings based on this interview in a 63-page report that he handed over to the military prosecutors three weeks later. He concluded Khadr is “conniving”, “unrepentant”, “as radicalized as ever”—and a “spoiled celebrity.”  Words he also used when he testified against Khadr during a Military Commission in Guantanamo Bay, October 2010.


They did not testify, but Khadr has also spent hundreds of hours with two mental health experts retained by his defence team: Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired U.S. army brigadier-general; and child psychologist Katherine Porterfield. Both have written glowing letters to Minister Toews, praising Khadr’s “remarkably positive outlook” and his wish to “contribute to the world in a way that brings about religious understanding.”


Read the full Macleans article here: The secret Omar Khadr file



Omar Khadr, a Canadian and Guantánamo Bay’s youngest prisoner, is 26 today. Torture, abuse and a decade of continuing arbitrary detention, however, offer little to celebrate. 

Demonstration in London during Omar Khadr’s 2010 military trial

Only 15 years old when he was captured by American forces in Afghanistan on 27 July 2002, following a battle between American soldiers and local militias, he was found unconscious, blinded in his left eye and was shot twice in the back. Inadequate treatment for his injuries at the time means that he continues to suffer pain both in his back and his eyes and has limited use of his left arm. He currently risks losing his sight altogether.

Prior to being taken to Guantánamo Bay, he was imprisoned at Bagram in Afghanistan for three months, where he was threatened with rape and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. This included waterboarding: a letter last year from US army psychiatrist Brigadier General (retired) Dr Stephen Xenakis to the Canadian government states that the 15-year old Khadr “[…] was mocked and remembers having water poured over his face while hooded so that he felt unable to breathe.” One of his first interrogators at Bagram, Joshua Claus, was later convicted of prisoner abuse and in relation to the prisoner deaths at Bagram featured in the Oscar-winning film Taxi to the Dark Side. Omar Khadr also reported that his interrogators told him he could go home if he confessed to the charges made. These “confessions” obtained from a child through torture would later constitute part of the evidence against him at his military tribunal.

At Guantánamo, he was treated as an adult and subject to the same treatment, including prolonged periods of solitary confinement. The US’ attitude to child prisoners at Guantánamo is hardly surprising given its status as the only country in the world, apart from Somalia, not to have ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has, however, signed and ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, published in the same month that Khadr was captured; Article 7(1) states that “State Parties shall cooperate […] in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims of acts contrary to this Protocol.” With the international outcry and response to the viral Kony 2012 campaign, both in the US and beyond, it is unfortunate that the same interest has not been shown in the US’ child prisoners of war.

Furthermore, in 2010, he was tried at the first military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay since President Obama took power and is the only person to have been tried as an adult before a military tribunal for war crimes allegedly committed as a minor since World War II. Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director warned that his trial could set “a dangerous international precedent for other children who are victims of recruitment in armed conflicts.” Ironically, at the same time as Khadr’s trial, when he was aged 23, an 88-year German former Nazi prison camp guard was charged in a German youth court for alleged involvement in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews at a concentration camp during World War II; in spite of his age at the time of the charges, and dying later that year before trial, a youth court was considered appropriate as the charges related to offences that occurred in 1942 when he was 21, and thus legally considered a minor.

In Omar Khadr’s show trial, on the other hand, at pre-trial hearings where US interrogators admitted that they used threats of rape and murder to extract confessions, the defence’s motion to have torture evidence disallowed was dismissed. In October 2010, in a secret plea bargain, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier and wounded another in the gun battle he was captured in. Otherwise facing the prospect of at least a life sentence if found guilty, as part of the plea deal, he would have his sentence slashed to just eight years of which he would serve the final 7 years in his native Canada. Omar Khadr has been due for release since October 2011; his return home is almost a year, if not a whole decade, overdue.

So, why does the story not end there with Khadr repatriated late last year? For its part, the US is keen to see Khadr go. Having abused just about all his other rights, this is not due to any altruism or newly-discovered goodwill, but expediency: the fear that the delay in honouring its deal could deter other prisoners from entering similar plea bargains, on the basis that they may not be released eventually.

The hold-up appears to come from the other side of the border in Canada. Canada’s liberal image faded soon after 9/11 with tightened security measures and revelations of its collusion in the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria. In Omar Khadr’s case, the Canadian authorities washed their hands of their obligations years ago. Having had opportunities to interrogate him at Guantánamo Bay, Canadian intelligence officers handed the information they learned from him to the US military to use as evidence in his military commission. In 2008, a video from 2003 was released showing Omar Khadr being questioned by Canadian agents following sleep deprivation, a form of torture.

Canadian lawyers for Khadr brought a lawsuit against the government to force it to demand his immediate repatriation, which resulted in a Canadian Supreme Court ruling in January 2010 that the government had violated his fundamental human rights under the Canadian constitution, but stopped short of ordering the Canadian government to demand Omar Khadr’s return to Canada. Condemnation of the Canadian government’s stance has come from all quarters, particularly human rights NGOs and recently, the UN Committee Against Torture demanded that the country seek his immediate repatriation.

Over the past year, Canada’s inability to repatriate one citizen (or indeed, write one letter seeking his repatriation) has become a shameful and drawn out saga. While not a party to Omar Khadr’s plea bargain, the Canadian government is well aware that it was based on an understanding that as of November 2011, he would be eligible for transfer back to Canada. According to Amnesty International UK, “The Government of Canada acknowledged and accepted that transfer was integral to the plea deal by means of a diplomatic note provided to the US government at the time. In November 2010 former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon stated that “we will implement the agreement that was reached between Mr. Khadr and the government of the United States.””

Anticipating this release date, Khadr’s Canadian lawyers formally applied for this transfer in early 2011. The US met all of Canada’s conditions for Khadr to be released by April 2012 and has since been awaiting a letter from the Canadian Minister of Public Security Vic Toews seeking Khadr’s return. In a letter to the Canadian government in July, American NGO Human Rights Watch accused the Canadian government of being “responsible for every additional day [since April 2012] Khadr spends in Guantanamo.”

With the US government’s willingness to return Omar Khadr, it was anticipated he would be released by the end of May. Four months on, he is still in Guantánamo Bay. Accusing the Canadian government of “stonewalling” on Omar Khadr’s case, his lawyers brought a case against the government in June to force it to seek his immediate repatriation. The case is still pending.

Around the same time, in early July, Senator Roméo Dallaire, a staunch supporter of Omar Khadr and advocate for child soldiers, launched a petition demanding the Canadian government fulfil its obligations to Omar Khadr and its deal with the US concerning his release: The petition can still be signed, and with just over 30,000 signatures three months later, from all over the world, it paints a damning picture of public apathy. That a senator need resort to a public e-petition website to communicate with his government speaks volumes about the level of debate on this matter and the state of democracy in Canada. However, Sen. Dallaire, a retired general and head of the failed UN mission to Rwanda during the genocide there, is no stranger to the fact that those in a position of authority who are able to make a difference will all too often choose to do nothing at all.

Vic Toews response has been to write to the US authorities seeking videos and psychiatric reports to check whether Omar Khadr is fit to return to Canada: yet more foot-dragging. Vic Toews received those documents and videos earlier this month and now only has to make his assessment and decision. According to a report in the Huffington Post, Khadr’s transfer will be approved and he will return to Canada before the US election in November. Vic Toews has dismissed this as untrue and instead the Canadian government has accused the US of stalling the process.

In view of the vitriolic, right-wing campaign in large parts of the Canadian press against Khadr over the past few months, there is a good chance that he will return to the country soon. In the UK, where several former prisoners were charged but never convicted, similar pre-emptive media smear campaigns also greeted their return. There has been no “recidivism” in Britain.

After a decade in Guantánamo Bay, Omar Khadr is no doubt damaged by his experiences, which have been unnecessarily prolonged by his own government. Summing up his analysis of the 300+ hours he spent in interviews and assessments with Omar Khadr, Dr Xenakis stated: “I have not observed any indication of aggressive or dangerous behavior by Mr. Khadr since I first met him in December 2008. He is a considerate and thoughtful young man who has consistently emphasized his goal to establish a constructive and peaceful life as a Canadian citizen. He has not given any indication at any time of presenting a personal or national security threat.” Along with many other organisations and individuals, Dr Xenakis also advocates rather than further incarceration upon his return to Canada, particularly in view of the time he has already spent in prison, Omar Khadr should be rehabilitated and not face further detention.

What Canada has to do has long been obvious, the question is simply why has it not?

For a case background:

September 19, 2020 · by  · in human rights

Music video Welcome Back Khadr | Evelyn Wreckage

Welcome Back Khadr

When they created a monster
They did a helluva job
They took a little kid and they taught him how to build a bomb
It could’ve been you
It could’ve happened to me
it was a Canadian son in a land of hostilities

Let’s welcome
Welcome back Khadr

Did they teach him to hate
Did they train him to kill
Were they screaming jihad just as the bombs above them fell
When the soldiers found him
shrapnel had left him blind
Then they put two bullets in his back
It’s a miracle our boy is still alive

Let’s welcome
Welcome back Khadr
Welcome back

In bloody orange jumpsuits
in Guantanamo
They’re caged like animals and Omar just cries for home
But it was a one-way ticket
into this black hole
The Harper regime turned their back
When the rest were rescuing their own

Let’s welcome
Welcome back Khadr

This is a call for compassion and who can blame
child soldiers for being child soldiers
With a soft will so easy to break, children tragically make
child soldiers, child soldiers
Great pains are taken to rescue and undo the damage done to
child soldiers, child soldiers
Target the people who indoctrinate and charge the people who train child soldiers but NOT the child soldiers

So Canada’s complicit in America’s vice
violence begets violence with no end in sight
we fuel the fires of al Qaida’s rage
you know anyone who’s been wronged
wants justice just the same
To those still sneering like really who cares
Try Amnesty, try UNICEF, try Romeo Dallaire
So we created a monster
Well let’s show them once and for all
That we in Canada believe that love can rebuild after any fall

Let’s welcome, Welcome back Khadr
It’s been too long, Little child soldier
We’re so sorry, Little man Khadr
Welcome back

from Does Not Equal (≠), released 18 September 2020