While four other Guantánamo detainees have regained their freedom in recent years, Omar Khadr’s ordeal continues to drag on, leaving his mentally fragile family wondering how to cope with an unsettled future.
The Canadian-born Khadr was 15 when he was captured after an allegedly firefight at a suspected al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan. Then 16, he was handed over to US forces and interrogated, supposedly over the objections of his US military captors. And from his room in the naval brig at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr wrote a hand-written denial of war crimes on a photocopy of a discarded Quran.
In February 2010, President Barack Obama agreed to release Khadr from Guantánamo, ordering him to return to Canada and stand trial for murder in violation of the laws of war (murder in violation of the laws of war carries a mandatory life sentence) in a court in that country.
Khadr was released on bail after spending four years in prison. But in 2013 a US appeals court overturned the decision on jurisdictional grounds, declaring that Khadr’s trial was properly held at Guantánamo. On 2 February 2015 he was brought back to Guantánamo. While the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of prisoners to be charged by a military commission, the US military has not yet set up any courtroom proceedings. Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney, has said that Khadr would not be able to participate in any courtroom proceedings without the presence of a US military advocate.
Khadr’s mother is refusing to leave his side, saying that he has been through enough. “He’s nothing,” she told the Toronto Star. Khadr’s half-brother, Omarek, who fought alongside him in Afghanistan, has been forced to abandon his studies because his father, an ex-Taliban army commander, is too “fragile” to cope with the pressure of keeping up appearances in public. “His dad’s not well. He was working in a restaurant and he has a few broken ribs, and his dad’s kind of volatile now,” Omarek Khadr said.