'Don't believe what you've heard,' Omar Khadr pleads in prison letter

In handwritten answers to six personal questions sent to him by CBC News, 21-year-old Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr says he is a peaceful person who misses his life in Canada.

CBC News asks 21-year-old Toronto man 6 personal questions

In this U.S. military-approved sketch from May 2008, Omar Khadr, 21, is seen flanked by his lawyers in the miltary commissions trial room at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. ((Janet Hamlin/CBC))

Omar Khadr says he is a peaceful person and wants to live a normal life in Canada, where he formed "joyful memories" of school and going to the zoo and car shows.

In handwritten answers to six questions sent to him by CBC News, Khadr writes from his prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that Canadians shouldn't be afraid of him, nor believe what they've heard about him.

"I'm a peaceful person," he writes, asking people in Canada to "give me a chance in life and don't believe what you've heard, and believe what you see with your own eyes."

Khadr's answers to the CBC's questions were conveyed through his military and civilian lawyers and were scrutinized by military censors at the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba.

The answers were sent in an envelope through the mail to Khadr's Edmonton lawyer, Dennis Edney, with "Camp Delta" listed as part of the return address. Camp Delta is the least restrictive of the U.S. military prisons at the naval base, where inmates deemed co-operative by jail authorities are allowed to read, mingle socially, take classes and have more exercise than less compliant prisoners.

U.S. military prosecutors have charged Khadr with murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and spying.

The charges relate to a July 2002 firefight between suspected Islamist militants and U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in which a member of the U.S. Special Forces, Sgt. Christopher Speer, was mortally wounded by a grenade explosion.

Accused of killing U.S. soldier

Omar Khadr, whose letter to CBC News says he wants to return to Canada, is shown here at age 15. (Canadian Press)

Prosecutors say Khadr, then 15, threw the grenade, but other documents have suggested it was an adult militant who killed Speer, or that he was shot by a member of his own platoon.

One of Speer's surviving colleagues, Sgt. Layne Morris, told CBC News that Khadr had definitely killed his comrade, although he admitted he wasn't an eyewitness.

"Omar pops up, throws the grenade, shoots the pistol," Morris said. "The grenade goes off, someone returns fire, hitting Omar a couple of times. He goes down. There's no one else in the compound."

The CBC's questions to Khadr avoided talking about his case, in part because of a desire to hear from him in his own words and also because U.S. military officials would be reluctant to see such details emerge outside of the courtroom.

In his letter to the CBC, Khadr says he wants to have a chance to distance himself from things that have happened in his past.

"I never had a choice in my past life," he writes, "but I will build my future with the [right] bricks, and that Islam is a peaceful, multicultural and anti-racist religion for all."

Family lived in Afghanistan, Pakistan

Before he was in his teens, his late father, Ahmed Said Khadr, moved the family to Pakistan's lawless Northwest Frontier region, and even to Afghanistan in the 1990s to work with Islamist charities. It's been alleged by U.S. officials that the elder Khadr was involved in militant activities and planning with al-Qaeda.

He died in a gun battle with Pakistani soldiers in October 2003.

His son's treatment and detention at Guantanamo Bay have been widely criticized in Canada and around the world.

Liberal and NDP members on the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights have called for the younger Khadr's repatriation to face trial in Canada.

Senator Roméo Dallaire, a retired Canadian Forces general, has called him a "child soldier," and human rights groups consider him a prisoner of conscience.

A report by an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs, based on visits to Guantanamo Bay in March and April, says Khadr's U.S. guards consider him to be  "salvageable" and a "good kid," and that his prolonged detention risks turning him into a radical Islamist.

Khadr's lawyers have prepared a plan to reintegrate him into Canadian society, should he be released or sent to Canada to serve any sentence he might be given by a court, and the proposals have been sent to MPs in Ottawa.

But the Conservative government has ruled out Khadr's return and generally avoided intervening in his case, saying he is being tried under the legal system of a friendly, allied country.

Text of Khadr letter

The full text of Khadr's answers appears below. Several spelling mistakes in his letter have been corrected. Readers can see a .pdf file of the actual note sent by the young Canadian to his Edmonton lawyer here.

Q & A Omar Khadr

Q:  What do you want out of life?

I just want to be as normal as any normal unknown Canadian

Q:  When you think of Canada, what comes to your mind?

My most joyful memories of my life were in Canada … like school and going to the zoo and seeing the auto show which, until my last day, I had car posters and magazines

Q:  What do you say to Canadians who may have fear of you?

First thing I tell them is not to fear me. I'm a peaceful person and to give me a chance in life and don't believe what you've heard and believe what you see with your eyes.

Q:  What are your fondest moments of your life in Canada?

In a normal person there is a connection between him and the place where he was born even if he didn't always live in the country, but he will always want to return to it, and feels his soul connected to it, and that's how I feel.

Q:  What are you looking forward to the most?

I always feel I'm in this world to help people and the best way to do that is to be a doctor to help anybody anywhere and anytime, and that's my future dream.

Q:  What steps would you take to distance yourself from your past?

First I never had a choice in my past life, but I will build my future with the right bricks, and that Islam is a peaceful, multicultural and anti-racism religion for all.