‘Freedom is way better than I thought’: Omar Khadr after 13 years in prison

WATCH ABOVE: Omar Khadr speaks to the media from his lawyer’s house in west Edmonton Thursday.

EDMONTON – Speaking with a beaming smile on his face, Omar Khadr told reporters in Edmonton Thursday he hopes to show Canadians he is a good man.

“I would like to thank the Canadian public for trusting me and giving me a chance,” said Khadr, speaking from the driveway of his lawyer’s house.

“Give me a chance. See who I am as a person, not as a name and then they can make their own judgment after that.”

Khadr spent his first hours of freedom out for lunch and signing papers at the courthouse, and said he’s excited for the chance at a fresh start in life.

“I’m still in a bit of shock,” he said following his release. “Freedom is way better than I thought. The Canadian public so far has been way better than I anticipated.

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“I’m still learning about myself. I’m still growing. I believe in learning. I didn’t have a lot of experience in life and I’m excited to start.”

READ MORE: Omar Khadr free on bail after 13 years in prison

The 28-year-old was given his first taste of freedom in nearly 13 years Thursday, after an Alberta judge rejected a last-ditch attempt by the federal government to block his release.

When asked if he had anything to say to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate said, “I’m going to have to disappoint him. I’m better than the person he thinks I am.”

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READ MORE: Omar Khadr’s lawyer calls Harper ‘bigot,’ says he ‘doesn’t like Muslims’

Khadr was captured by the Americans in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was 15 years old. He 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.

“I am sorry for the pain I caused the families of the victims,” Khadr said Thursday night. “There’s nothing I can do about the past but I hope that the future, I can do something about the future.”

WATCH: What’s next for Omar Khadr? Fletcher Kent finds out.

Khadr’s release came with conditions. Among them, he is to have limited contact with his Toronto family, including only speaking to them in English via video or telephone – and under supervision.

While he admitted he still has a lot of “basic skills” to learn, Khadr said he hopes to work towards a career in health care.

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“I believe that you have to be able to empathize with people in pain and I’ve experienced pain so I think I can empathize with people who are going through that.”

When asked if he had anything left to say to Canadians before heading into the house for a lamb dinner, Khadr said:

“I’d just like to thank them and ask them to give me a chance. You’ll be surprised.”

With files from The Canadian Press. 

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