Omar Khadr, the former child soldier whose war crimes convictions made him a political lightning rod for both Conservative and Liberal governments, is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at a Dalhousie University event next month.
Khadr, 33, is one of two keynote speakers at an event to mark a day of protest against the use of child soldiers, hosted by the university and the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The other keynote is Ishmael Beah, 39, a former Sierra Leonean child soldier, and Dallaire will also speak, along with Shelly Whitman, an academic expert on children in armed conflict. CBC journalist Nahlah Ayed will moderate.
Promotional material says Khadr and Beah will “highlight their experience in conflict and why they are passionate about the protection of children.”
The event, which is free with a suggested donation to Dallaire’s charity, marks the first public speaking appearance for Khadr since last spring, when a judge ruled his eight-year sentence has been fully served.
Soon after, Khadr appeared on Tout le monde en parle, a Radio-Canada talk show. He said he is resigned to never being an ordinary citizen, but it trying to live as normal a life as possible.
His case remains hotly contested in the United States. Last week, an appeal court decided not to force the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review to hear Khadr’s appeal of his war crimes convictions, which were based on a confession he gave to an American military commission in order to escape from the extraterritorial prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and which he has since recanted.
The court found there are still unsettled legal issues in a separate terrorism appeal, and that it was “confident” Khadr’s appeal would be heard once those issues are resolved.
Khadr’s father, a notorious Al Qaeda financier, left Omar, then aged 15, with a group of Islamist militants in Ayub Kheyl, a village near Khost, Afghanistan in 2002. They were engaged by U.S. forces that July, in a firefight that left U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer dead.
Khadr was wounded, captured, and taken in October, 2002, to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. facility in Cuba for captured terrorists, where he was held without charge until being declared an “enemy combatant” in 2005.
Rather than helping him as a Canadian citizen in foreign detention, Canada participated in his interrogation under what the Supreme Court of Canada later called “oppressive circumstances,” specifically, sleep deprivation in order to make him compliant, known at Guantanamo as the “frequent flyer program.” The top court found this behaviour was “contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations” and amounted to a serious breach of Khadr’s Charter rights.
He was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty in 2010, transferred to Canada in 2012, and bailed in 2015 pending an appeal of his United States Military Commission convictions. He said his guilty plea was made only in order to get out of Guantanamo Bay.
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Speer’s widow and children sued Khadr in Utah court, along with Layne Morris, who was seriously injured and blinded in the firefight, and his wife, Leisl. Khadr declined to participate in the lawsuit from a jail in Alberta, and was eventually ordered to pay Speer and Morris $134 million.
The Speers and Morrises have not collected on that judgment, and failed in an attempt to freeze Khadr’s assets in 2017, when the Canadian government paid Khadr $10.5-million to settle his lawsuit. He has invested some of that money in an Edmonton strip mall.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the unpopularity of the payout but said that defending in court would have ended in inevitable loss, and court-ordered damages of as much as $40-million.
The Guantanamo Bay prison camp was separately back in the news this week because of the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, which is hearing testimony from James Mitchell, the psychologist the U.S. hired to create its torture protocols for what it publicly described as “enhanced interrogation.” The U.S. Senate later concluded this torture was ineffective, unjustified, “brutal” and “inherently unsustainable,” and damaged America’s global standing.