WATCH ABOVE: After nearly 13 years behind bars, Omar Khadr spoke to the media where he said ‘freedom is way better than I thought.’
EDMONTON – “Mr. Khadr, you’re free to go.”
With those spare words, an Alberta justice on Thursday paved the way for former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr to get his first taste of freedom in almost 13 years.
Supporters in the courtroom gasped in joy and Khadr, 28, smiled broadly as Appeal Court Justice Myra Bielby rejected the government’s last-ditch attempt to block his bail.
The government, she said, had failed to prove his release would cause serious harm to Canadian interests or pose a risk to the public.
Khadr’s longtime lawyer Dennis Edney walked over to his client and whispered, “We done it,” as he squeezed his fingers. Edney’s wife, Patricia sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes, then hugged and kissed her husband.
Outside court, an emotional Edney said the day had been a long time coming as he talked about his client’s ordeal since the Americans captured him grievously wounded in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15 years old.
The government, which has consistently branded Khadr an unrepentant terrorist and said it would fight his release every step of the way, expressed disappointment at the latest turn of events.
“(We) regret that a convicted terrorist has been allowed back into Canadian society without having served his full sentence,” Jeremy Laurin, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, said in a statement.
As paperwork was prepared for Khadr’s release, which comes with a list of restrictions including wearing a tracking bracelet and a curfew, an emotional Edney stepped outside to denounce a federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper for showing no mercy.
“Mr. Harper is a “bigot,” Edney said. “We left a Canadian child in Guantanamo Bay to suffer torture (and) we Canada participated in this torture. So today’s a wonderful day for justice.”
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Within two hours of Bielby’s decision, a grinning Edney who had received a crash course in tracking bracelets left the courthouse with Khadr for his first venture outside without guards in more than a decade.
Edney’s co-counsel, Nate Whitling, tweeted a picture of the two leaving.
READ MORE: Timeline of the legal odyssey of Omar Khadr
Khadr, who had no immediate comment, pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a widely discredited military commission to five war crimes – including murder in the death of a U.S. special forces soldier. In exchange, the commission handed him a further eight-year sentence.
Dubbed “Guantanamo’s Child,” he was the youngest inmate and lone westerner left in the naval prison at the time. He remains the only person convicted of murder for the battlefield death of an American soldier in Afghanistan.
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He returned to Canada from Guantanamo Bay, where he had been held for a decade, in 2012 under an international transfer treaty, and later said he had only pleaded guilty to get out of the notorious prison.
Last month, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross granted his bid for bail while he appeals his war-crimes conviction but the Canadian government made a last-ditch attempt to have the ruling stayed.
Bielby, after thinking about it for two days, would have none of it. Any risks to Canadian interests were largely speculative and at best minor, she said.
The U.S. State Department said it took no position on the release, calling it an “internal” Canadian matter.
Following his transfer to Canada, Khadr was housed in a maximum security institution in Ontario, before being transferred to Edmonton, and then to Bowden Institution near Innisfail, Alta., where he was recently classified as a minimum security prisoner.
Throughout his incarceration, the government has refused to allow media any access to him, a point Edney noted.
“I look forward to Omar Khadr letting the Canadian public see who he is, to challenge the lies of this government who has not allowed him to be seen or speak to you,” Edney said.
Court documents show Khadr recently told a psychologist that he wanted no part of “this terrorism nonsense” and said he still clings to the hope that he wasn’t the one that threw the hand grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer in Afghanistan.
He also said he still suffers nightmares of the brutal 2002 firefight but wants to put his past behind him and earn the trust and respect of Canadians.
“I’ve screwed up in the past, and I’m worried it will haunt me,” Khadr told the psychologist.
Among his other restrictions, Khadr will have to face limits on contact with his Toronto family, including only talking to them in English via video or telephone or after prior approval – and under supervision.
“We’re not talking to anybody,” his mother Maha Elsamnah said from her mother’s home in Scarborough, Ont., before hanging up.
Khadr’s late father was a friend of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his mother has previously angered Canadians by expressing support for al-Qaida.