Omar Khadr says he realizes life after his controversial war crime conviction — always a lightning rod among the Canadian public — will likely never be “ordinary.”
But that isn’t going to stop him from trying to get as close to it as possible.
In an interview with the French-language current affairs program Tout le monde en parle on Sunday night, Khadr was asked about how he is adjusting to life as a free man after an Alberta judge last month ruled he has finished serving time following a widely criticized war crime conviction by an American military tribunal.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be an ordinary citizen but I’m going to carry myself as ordinary as I can,” he said, speaking in English on the Radio-Canada program.
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Khadr continued, adding that he often still faces challenges in trying to find opportunities to work or volunteer in his community.
“A lot of times when I apply for work or volunteering, I don’t hear back from people,” he said, pointing to the use of criminal background checks in applications that bring up his past. “Realistically, for the time being, I don’t think anybody is going to be willing to risk, like, people like me.”
During the interview, Khadr was also asked whether he considers himself a child soldier — a term many, including retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and his foundation, which works to support and prevent the use of child soldiers — have argued should apply to him.
Khadr said the term holds a lot of assumptions about the way a conflict is fought.
“Saying I was a child soldier would assume it was a regular war and I was in a regular army,” he said.
“I think I was just in an unfortunate place in an unfortunate circumstance that I was with adults, they told me to do something and I did it. So I don’t know if I would call myself — that’s the term people use to try to describe my situation.”
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In 2002, Khadr was captured at the age of 15 by U.S. forces during a firefight on the compound where he was staying in Afghanistan.
His father was a financier for Al-Qaeda and had brought the family to Afghanistan from Canada in 1996.
During that time, Khadr and his brother received weapons training and were indoctrinated with extremist ideology.
When American forces raided the compound where Khadr had been staying, he was shot and seriously wounded.
The Americans captured him and said he threw a grenade that killed one of their soldiers.
That claim kicked off a years-long legal battle while Khadr was detained indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay and tortured.
His case quickly raised concerns among human rights groups, which argued he met the criteria for a child soldier and should be treated differently than an adult enemy combatant, and released from the detention site.
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In 2010, he was sentenced to eight years in prison for war crimes following a confession Khadr says was obtained under torture.
As part of that conviction, he was able to apply for a transfer to a Canadian prison and was released on bail by a Canadian judge in 2015.
The former Conservative government tried to appeal that but the bid was dropped by the newly elected Liberals in 2016.
In 2017, the federal government announced it had agreed to pay Khadr a settlement and he abandoned a Supreme Court lawsuit against the government seeking roughly $20 million in damages after the court had previously ruled Canadian officials were complicit in his torture.
Media reports citing unnamed sources pegged the amount of the settlement at $10.5 million.
Khadr says he recognizes there are aspects of the settlement that make people uneasy but that he hopes it serves as a deterrent to future governments against being complicit in torture.
“I think this settlement is not just for me. It’s for every Canadian to ensure that our government does not participate in torturing its citizens,” he said.
“I know some people might be offended by it but I think it’s for all of us.”
Part of that settlement money went towards buying an Edmonton strip mall but Khadr said the tenants have received threats since news he was their landlord became public earlier this year.
He added he has met with all of the business owners in the strip mall and understands many of them feel angry with the people making the threats.
“It’s not their fault who their landlord is,” Khadr said.
He was also asked by the hosts of the program about how “zen” he appeared when talking about life after his public and highly controversial legal affairs. Khadr responded by saying he puts the credit at the feet of the people he has around him.
“The thing is, I think individuals, they underestimate the willpower we all have. People think I’m special or I’m strong. I don’t believe that. I think we all have that capability, it’s just taking that effort and trusting in yourself and believing in yourself and doing it,” he said.
“I’ve been blessed with good people. My faith has been a very big part of my survival and I’ve had a lot of good people around me so I don’t take any credit for that.”