A photo reportedly taken between 1994-1996 shows a young Omar Khadr and his family. Photo/Wikimedia Commons via public domain [http://bit.ly/1E7ij6x]

Give him a chance

  • May 14, 2015

Among Omar Khadr’s first words after tasting freedom for the first time in 13 years was a vow to prove that the boy terrorist has become a law-abiding young man.

Released on bail on May 7, Khadr expressed gratitude for a second chance and said he’d prove that he is not the person who confessed to tossing a grenade that killed a U.S. combat medic in Afghanistan.

“I will prove to them that I am a good person,” he said.

The only one who can possibly know if Khadr is sincere is Khadr himself. There’s plenty of reason for skepticism. Khadr was raised to be a terrorist. His father died a terrorist’s death and his family embraced international terrorist causes.  

When he reached puberty Khadr was pulled into the family business. He was 15 when he tossed the grenade that a dysfunctional upbringing had placed in his hand. Now 28, he vows to convince Canadians that he has changed, that he is “more than what they thought of me.”

Maybe he is or maybe he isn’t. Time will tell. But after serving almost half his life in prison Khadr should get his shot at redemption.

There are more than 250,000 child soldiers in the world. These are boys and girls under 18, including children as young as 10, who are marched into armed conflicts. They often carry guns but just as often are exploited as couriers, spies, human shields, suicide bombers or sex slaves. There are no reliable statistics, but large numbers of them are maimed or killed. Khadr survived, so he is one of the lucky ones, but that is the only redeeming aspect of his story.

As a child he was exploited by a fanatical jihadist family and by al-Qaeda, which armed him and sent him into battle. He was shot and nearly died in Afghanistan and then jailed by the Americans in the notorious compound at Guantanamo Bay.

There, while still a child under the law, he was placed in isolation, where over the years he was tortured for information and a confession, and then sentenced to jail.

His lawyer claims Khadr confessed to war crimes only after being water boarded and telling his captors what they demanded to hear in order to release him from Guantanamo. He was detained for 10 years without charges and denied fundamental legal rights. A Canadian citizen, he was abandoned by Ottawa and publicly denounced. Even a terrorist should be entitled to due process. That should be particularly true for someone dragged into terrorism as a child.

Khadr may end up back in prison if various appeals on his convictions fail. Meantime, his release on bail is a just decision. He wants to make a fresh start. He should get that chance.

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