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Margaret Wente

Welcome back Khadr, you lucky guy Add to ...

Omar Khadr is a lucky young man. He is lucky to be entitled to Western justice, however rough. He is lucky to have become a political embarrassment to the Obama administration, which has sensibly negotiated a plea deal that will get rid of him. He is especially lucky to have been born in Canada, where prison conditions aren't too bad and where lots of people want to be his friend.

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In fact, Mr. Khadr is lucky to be alive. Without the first-rate medical treatment he received from the Americans - after trying to kill as many of them as possible - Mr. Khadr would be just another forgotten casualty of war, dead in Afghanistan at the age of 15. Instead, he has become a cause célèbre, a hot potato and a poster child soldier for anti-war activists and human-rights groups. And before long, he'll be coming home, according to those who are familiar with the details of the deal.

Many Canadians don't especially want him back. According to an Angus Reid poll taken in July, 46 per cent of respondents were content to see him tried in a U.S. military court. Only 36 per cent wanted him repatriated to Canada. (The others didn't care.) That's why, despite hectoring opinion columns and the odd judicial rebuke, the Harper government has been happy to let Mr. Khadr cool his heels in Gitmo for more than a third of his life.

Mr. Khadr is a polarizing figure, to put it mildly. To sympathizers, he is a former child soldier who was brainwashed by his family, held without trial for years and obviously mistreated. They argue he deserves rehabilitation, not jail. To foes, he was a hardened young fighter. "That wasn't a panicky teenager we encountered that day," Sergeant First Class Layne Morris, who lost his right eye in the ambush, told The Boston Globe last month. "That was a trained al-Qaeda who wanted to make his last act on Earth the killing of an American." As far as they're concerned, it's a shame we don't have the power to send the entire Khadr clan packing.

Mr. Khadr is far more popular among the liberal media, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP than he is among the general public. A new documentary, You Don't Like the Truth, paints a sympathetic portrait of a young man abandoned by his country. Yet, those who accuse our government of behaving brutishly should perhaps recall the humanitarian gesture that saved Mr. Khadr's dad, Ahmed. In 1996, when Omar was just 9, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien personally intervened to get Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian citizen, sprung from jail in Pakistan, where he'd been arrested in connection with the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Ahmed Khadr, who was also lionized by the media and human-rights groups, really was a terrorist - a senior al-Qaeda operative who used his new-found freedom to train his sons as soldiers for jihad.

Omar Khadr can also thank the Obama administration, which has had a hard time keeping its promise to shut down Guantanamo and make the remaining detainees go away. The last thing it wanted was a full-blown trial that might prove messy and embarrassing. The last thing Mr. Khadr wanted was a lifetime in jail. The plea deal is a win for both, as well as a favour that Prime Minister Stephen Harper couldn't possibly refuse. So welcome back, you lucky guy! I wish you all the best with your celebrity, your book deals and your rehabilitation.

 

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