Edmonton

Omar Khadr continues to divide Canadians

If Canada is a country at times divided, then Omar Khadr now has his own sense of that reality, especially if he has read or heard the things that have been said about him in the past 24 hours.

'There is not a single, radical thought in Omar Khadr’s head,' his lawyer says

Omar Khadr speaks to the media outside his lawyer's house in Edmonton Thursday evening after his release on bail. (CBC)

Social media lit up Thursday when Omar Khadr was freed on bail by an Alberta court.

People are parsing his every word, commenting on his smile, offering support — and making threats against him.

Comments pages filled up on news websites.

If Canada is a country at times divided, then Omar Khadr now has his own sense of that reality, especially if he has read or heard the things that have been said about him in the past 24 hours.

An editorial in the Toronto Sun on Thursday called Khadr a "security risk," reminding readers that his late father was a confidant of Osama bin Laden and labelling his relatives "Canada's first family of terrorism."

On the other side of the argument, the Toronto Star reached a much different conclusion. "Canada's image as a nation that upholds civil rights and the rule of law has been tarnished by this affair, and it won't soon recover," the Star opined in its own editorial.

Much of the discussion has focused on Khadr's first public appearance before television cameras since his arrest 13 years ago.

On Thursday, when asked about violent extremism, Khadr said: "That's not something I believe in right now."

The questions began immediately. What exactly did he mean by that?

One of Khadr's lawyers, Nate Whitling, was asked about that comment on Friday during an interview with CBC News.

"There is not a single, radical thought in Omar Khadr's head," he said.

"I've spent many, many days with Omar, for years. We would go down there and not just have interviews. We'd spend the weekend with him. Playing games and playing cards and watching movies. I have never once, for a moment, observed even a hint of any kind of radical ideology on the part of Omar. There's no question whatsoever that what was in his past was inflicted upon him by his parents. It ceased back on July 27, 2002, when he was taken prisoner."

Confession made at lawyers' urging

Many Canadians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, continue to see Khadr as a terrorist, a man who admitted to and was justly convicted of war crimes.

"Those words were stated in Guantanamo," Whitling said of his client's confession to war crimes charges. "I must say, I'm one of the lawyers who encouraged him to say those things in order to get him out of there. I think he probably would have confessed to the Kennedy assassination, if that's what it would have taken to get him out of that place. And most of us, I think, would have done the same thing."

Whitling insisted again on Friday, as the defence team has for more than a decade, that Khadr was never a terrorist, that he was simply a teenager caught up in the post-Sept. 11 war in Afghanistan, a boy manipulated by his own father.

"Omar just got dropped into the middle of that, by his dad," Whitling said. "He didn't want to go there, he didn't choose to go there. His dad drove him there and dropped him off and said goodbye. Omar just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time."

On Thursday, Khadr apologized for the pain he caused. Whitling said it will ultimately be up to the families of the victims to decide whether to accept his client's words.

"Certainly it's up to them to determine whether that apology was enough.

"It was obviously brief," he said of Khadr's statement before the camera. "I thought he spoke from the heart.

"Of course, it wasn't his first apology. Omar also apologized to them face to face down in Guantanamo. Which was very, very difficult for him."

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