Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr speaks in at child soldiers panel

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr speaks in at child soldiers panel

HALIFAX — Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr provided a small window of insight about his life since his return to Canada in 2013 during a rare public speaking appearance in Halifax.

Khadr, who was part of a panel discussion on child soldiers hosted by the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, told an audience at Dalhousie University that he always has to behave a certain way in public because of his past.

He said he had been treated as a bad person for so long that he believes he has to constantly prove he isn’t.

“I always have to carry myself in a very professional way and I have to carry myself in a way that I’m always trying to convince people that I’m not bad,” said Khadr.

“I have to always be rational. I can’t be emotional because I’m worried if I’m emotional people are going to think he’s manipulative, and that’s so burdensome.”

Khadr said it’s a situation where he can’t make any mistakes.

“You can’t live lightheartedly,” he said. “Everything you do you have to be aware of what you are doing and it’s tiring at some point.”

As a 15-year-old in Afghanistan, Canadian-born Khadr was captured and badly wounded in July 2002 and was accused of killing a U.S. soldier and injuring another.

He was held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and was returned to Canada in 2013.

The 33-year-old appeared in Halifax with Ishmael Beah, a human rights activist and former Sierra Leonean child soldier, along with Dallaire and the Dallaire Initiative’s executive director Shelly Whitman.

The two-hour discussion focused on the experiences of children in conflict and their protection as well as the long-term consequences of those experiences.

Specifics of Khadar’s case were not discussed and organizers made it known prior to the event that Khadar would not entertain questions from the audience about it.

Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including the murder of a U.S. special forces soldier, before a widely disparaged military commission at Guantanamo Bay in 2010. As part of a plea deal, the court sentenced him to eight more years rather than to the jury-recommended 40 years.

Khadr later said the deal was his only way out of the infamous American prison. He has also spent more than six years trying to appeal his conviction but a military commission appellate court has so far refused to hear the case.

Beah, who has written about his two-year experience as a child soldier from the age of 13, said he has been celebrated for turning his life around from a situation where he was indoctrinated and desensitized, while Khadr has had to fight for acceptance since his return to Canada.

“Here was a child from North America who has been vilified,” said Beah. “I felt there was a dishonesty in the way people had empathy for me but not for him.”

The Canadian government apologized to Khadr in 2017, and also paid him $10.5-million for having violated his rights while he was in Guantanamo Bay.

Whitman made a point of telling the Halifax audience that no one on the stage was receiving a speaking fee.

“This is not a publicity stunt,” she said. “We are all here because we are all committed to a better world for children.”

Some had spoken out against Khadr’s appearance in Halifax including Ezra Levant of Rebel Media.

Khadr was asked by an audience member what he would say to a lone protester who stood outside prior to the event.

“I wouldn’t say anything,” he said. “Let him protest. It’s a free country.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

An anti-lockdown protest went ahead outside a café in central Alberta on Saturday, despite pouring rain and a pre-emptive court injunction. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
Anti-restriction protest underway in central Alberta despite injunction

A large crowd has gathered in the parking lot of the Whistle… Continue reading

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

Alberta recorded a single-day record of over 57,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta hits daily record of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered

Central zone has administered 111,735 doses of the COVID-19

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Canada's chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Tam warns that full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Canada’s chief public health officer reminded Canadians on Saturday that even those… Continue reading

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour conducts drills during NHL hockey training camp in Morrisville, N.C., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
NHL relaxing virus protocols for vaccinated playoff teams

The NHL is relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a threshold… Continue reading

Canada skip Kerri Einarson directs her teammates against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Canada’s Einarson eliminated at curling worlds after 8-3 loss to Sweden’s Hasselborg

CALGARY — Canada’s Kerri Einarson was eliminated at the world women’s curling… Continue reading

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman didn’t expect to get hit with a double whammy at… Continue reading

A courtroom at the Edmonton Law Courts building, in Edmonton on Friday, June 28, 2019. The effect of the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the Canadian justice system warn a number of legal experts. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench announced Sunday it would adjourn all scheduled trials across the province for at least 10-weeks limiting hearings to only emergency or urgent matters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton mother found guilty of manslaughter in death of five-year-old girl

EDMONTON — An Edmonton woman was found guilty Friday of manslaughter in… Continue reading

A Statistics Canada 2016 Census mailer sits on the key board of a laptop after arriving in the mail at a residence in Ottawa, May 2, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Statistics Canada sees more demand to fill out census online during pandemic

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the response to the census is higher… Continue reading

Travellers, who are not affected by new quarantine rules, arrive at Terminal 3 at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ottawa will create a new digital platform to help in processing immigration applications more quickly and efficiently after COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a digital immigration system, the immigration department said. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process… Continue reading

Most Read