Professors, doctors, businessmen and even a former senior member of the U.S. military have put their names — and reputations — on the line to support the bail application of a man the Canadian government and other detractors have branded a dangerous jihadi terrorist.
Foremost among those backing Omar Khadr are his long-time lawyer Dennis Edney and his wife Patricia, who have offered to take him into their home if he wins bail.
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"I just think he's an extraordinary young man," Patricia Edney, a manager with Alberta Health Services, said in an interview from Edmonton.
"We see him as more than a client: We see him as somebody who's been abandoned by his government and suffered greatly for it."
Edney, who has met the Toronto-born Khadr in prison, says she finds him gentle, articulate and gracious.
Appeal on hold
Khadr's application for bail — to be heard over two days later this month by Court of Queen's Bench — aims to get him out of Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., while he appeals his conviction on five war-crimes charges by a U.S. military commission for incidents that occurred in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old.
He pleaded guilty in 2010 to murder in violation of the law of war in the death of an American special forces soldier, attempted murder, conspiracy, spying and providing material support to terrorism as part of a deal to be repatriated to Canada from Guantanamo Bay.
Despite the backing of numerous legal experts and even rulings from U.S. courts, the commission appeal court has so far put his case on hold, raising the possibility that Khadr, 28, won't get a hearing before his eight-year sentence runs out — in October 2018.
In their letters for bail court, Arlette Zinck and her businessman husband Rob Betty make clear their positive assessment of Khadr.
"I am proud to count him among my closest friends," says Betty, who has had "dozens of rich visits" with Khadr since his return to Canada in Sept. 2012.
Zinck, an English professor at King's University, has been one of Khadr's tutors for years.
He's a diligent and capable "model student" who will need to "acclimate to life beyond bars," she says.
Supporter a 'groupie': former sergeant blinded in 2002 battle
Layne Morris, a former U.S. special forces sergeant blinded in the 2002 battle in which Khadr was captured, called Zinck a "groupie" who is part of a clique involving celebrities, the media and liberal politicians who see Khadr as the latest cause celebre.
"They have no knowledge whatsoever — they say, 'Oh, well, he was 15 at the time, he should be given another chance'," Morris said in an interview from Utah.
"I don't think he should have another chance at this point because he's still a huge security risk to Western society and he's a risk to Canadian society."
Still, no one who has worked closely with Khadr over the past several years — including Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier-general with the U.S. Army who spent hundreds of hours evaluating him — believes he poses any kind of risk.
Khadr's own affidavit brings into sharp relief the massive life-skills deficit he will have to overcome upon any release.
He will need support, he writes, with such basic tasks as banking, shopping for groceries, using a public library, riding a bus, learning to drive, renting accommodation, finding work, or filing a tax return.
While keen to find volunteer or paid work, Khadr says he will initially have enough on his plate learning to navigate a world he barely knows — a world that includes door knobs and smart phones.
Federal government yet to file response to bail application
He will also have to get used to his home country after living with his family before his arrest mainly in Pakistan and in Taliban-controlled eastern Afghanistan.
His father was an associate of Osama bin Laden and the family stayed for a time at the terror mastermind's compound.
At his trial in October 2010, Khadr said he hoped one day to become a doctor.
For now, however, his educational aspirations are more modest: Complete high school equivalency and, on release, study for a Bachelor of Arts at King's University.
His U.S. appeal argues the widely maligned military commission at Guantanamo Bay had no jurisdiction to accept his guilty plea in exchange for a further eight years behind bars because he was tried for an action that was not a war crime under either American or international law.
He later said he only pleaded guilty to get out of the notorious U.S. military prison.
The federal government has yet to file its response to the bail application but has consistently said it will fight any effort to lessen his punishment.