Khadr: 'See who I am as a person, not as a name'
Published Thursday, May 7, 2015 1:37PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, May 7, 2015 10:13PM EDT
After being released on bail Thursday following nearly 13 years in custody, Omar Khadr asked the Canadian public to give him a chance.
“See who I am as a person, not as a name,” he said outside the Edmonton home of his lawyer Dennis Edney.
Asked by a reporter about the federal government's long fight to keep the 28-year-old incarcerated, Khadr said he hopes to change Prime Minister Stephen Harper's mind.
"I'm going to have to disappoint him; I'm better than the person he thinks I am," Khadr said.
The former Guatanamo Bay detainee said he plans to pursue an education, and perhaps a career in health care.
"I want a fresh start -- there are too many good things in … life that I want to experience," he said.
Khadr's legal team celebrated the release earlier on Thursday, saying it is "delighted" with the Alberta Court of Appeal decision.
Edney said the ruling marked "a wonderful day for justice," but he wished it had come sooner for Khadr, who was 15 when he was arrested.
"I'm delighted, incredibly delighted. It has taken too many years to get to this point," Edney told reporters outside the courthouse in Edmonton.
He said that Canada was the only Western country that failed to ask the U.S. to return one of its Guantanamo detainees.
"We left a child -- a Canadian child -- in Guantanamo Bay to suffer torture… We, Canada, participated in this torture," he said.
When asked why Canada has not done more to support Khadr, Edney said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision-making has been clouded by prejudice.
"Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper does not like Muslims," Edney said.
Edney added that Harper's lack of support is also indicative of a larger political agenda.
"He wants to show he's tough on crime, and who does he pick on? A 15-year-old boy who was picked up and put in a hell hole in Guantanamo," said Edney.
At a news conference later on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said he was "disappointed" by the court's ruling. He added he hoped the court would consider the effect on the family of U.S. Army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer. Khadr pleaded guilty to killing Speer in 2010.
"We feel victims should be considered in those decisions," said Blaney.
"Our thoughts go out to Mrs. Speer and her two sons who have lost their father, and we believe that individuals who have pleaded guilty to crimes should serve their sentence behind bars," he added.
Blaney spokesperson Jeremy Laurin said in a statement that they had hoped that Khadr would remain behind bars at the Bowden Institution near Innisfail, Alta., while awaiting his appeal in the U.S.
“We are disappointed with today’s decision, and regret that a convicted terrorist has been allowed back into Canadian society without having served his full sentence," Laurin said in a statement.
Laurin noted that Khadr had pleaded guilty to "heinous crimes," including the death of Speer, and the federal government has "vigorously defended" against any attempt to lessen his punishment.
The Speer family released a statement saying they would not be commenting on the court decision and asking for privacy.
“Chris was a loving husband, father and servant to his country. He is remembered fondly is still a very prominent part of our lives,” his widow Tabitha Speer said.
Retired U.S. Special Forces member, Sgt. Layne Morris, who was wounded and blinded in the same 2002 firefight that killed Speer, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling, but is not convinced it was the right one.
"People certainly can change, but when I saw him at trial and heard the evidence that his attorney put out there as well as the government evidence, I was completely convinced that Omar Khadr was a threat," Morris told CTV News Channel.
"This isn't someone with intentions; this is someone who is a demonstrated, convicted terrorist."
The group Human Rights Watch applauded the decision and said they hoped the federal government would take steps to rehabilitate Khadr as a child soldier, as required under international law.
“The court’s conditional release of Omar Khadr is a start, but it won’t erase all the abuses he suffered during the nearly 13 years he was locked up,” said the group's senior national security counsel, Laura Pitter.
She added that Canada should have begun offering Khadr rehabilitation when he arrived back in Canada.
“Now, Canada has a chance to try to make things right and provide Khadr with the support he needs to reintegrate into Canadian society.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims welcomed the court's decision, saying it was consistent with the rule of law.
"We hope that with his release Khadr can begin a new chapter in his life and reintegrate as a positive and contributing member of our society," it said.
"Canadians should be deeply disturbed that the rights of a fellow citizen - even one whose family and name are unpopular - were so callously abused and ignored."