The transfer of Omar Khadr to Canada from Guantanamo Bay has infuriated a former American soldier partly blinded in the firefight in which the badly-wounded Canadian teenager was captured.
The move has also prompted hundreds of Canadians to open their wallets on behalf of the family of the U.S. soldier Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty to killing during the July 2002 battle in Afghanistan.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, former sergeant Layne Morris denounced Khadr, 26, as a “horrific security risk,” and blasted the American government.
“My frustration is with the Obama administration and their continued refusal to accept the will of the American people: that these most dangerous of the most dangerous detainees be kept in Guantanamo Bay,” Mr. Morris said from West Valley, Utah, where he is deputy city manager.
“I don’t think (Khadr) is done with radical Islam. I don’t think he’s done with the jihad.”
Mr. Morris, 50, was hit by shrapnel and lost the sight in one eye during the attack on the compound in which Mr. Khadr, then 15 years old, was found near death in the rubble and Delta Force soldier, Sergeant Christopher Speer, was left mortally wounded.
In October, 2010, Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty before a military commission to five war crimes, including murder for throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer. In return, he was given a further eight years behind bars but allowed to return to Canada last Saturday to serve out the sentence.
Mr. Morris’s anger is palpable.
“This is a young man that despite 10 years in Guantanamo and every attempt and opportunity to educate himself and prepare himself for life in a western society has done nothing,” said Mr. Morris, who found out from a Canadian reporter the transfer had taken place.
“He went in with an eight-grade education, he’s come out with an eighth-grade education. Other than memorize the Koran and be regarded as the ‘rock star’ of Guantanamo by the other inmates, all he’s done is prepare himself for further jihad.”
Many of those who have worked closely with Mr. Khadr over the years — American soldiers, mental-health experts and a succession of defence lawyers — paint a very different picture. It’s a portrait of someone smart and gentle who desperately wants to get on with a “normal” life and has been trying to upgrade his education.
For several years now, Mr. Khadr has been studying a curriculum developed for him by King’s University College in Edmonton.
Arlette Zinck, an English professor at the school, called Mr. Khadr a diligent student. She said he has done well on the curriculum built around 24 Canadian novels that are used as gateways to teach him other subjects such as math and physics.
“He’s worked hard in some pretty unusual and taxing circumstances (and) continues to show lots of aptitude,” Prof. Zinck said.
“He’s learned a lot and certainly been a very compliant and agreeable young man to work with.”
Mr. Khadr’s supporters see him as a child soldier and a victim of the war on terror who has been betrayed by his own family and the Canadian government, a view firmly rejected by Mr. Morris and many others.
To make that point, Hamish Marshall, a former Harper government strategist, set up an online fundraiser to help Sgt. Speer’s widow, Tabitha, pay for the education of their children Tanner and Taryn.
“There’s been a lot of attention on Mr. Khadr’s rights and what’s been happening to him,” Mr. Marshall said from Vancouver.
“This is about remembering a real man who died.”
Mr. Marshall and campaign co-founder Ezra Levant — a fierce critic of Mr. Khadr and those who see him as victim — have not spoken to Tabitha Speer but said they were in touch with a law firm in Utah that will receive the money in trust for her.
Ms. Speer did not return a call seeking comment, so it’s unclear whether she wants or needs the money.
The fundraiser began Monday, collecting close to $30,000 within days from around 400 people, with average donations of about $70 to $80.
Daniel Koetsier, a Hamilton businessman, gave $300.
While he wanted to “make a bit of a statement” with his donation — against Mr. Khadr’s “sweetheart” deal and the notion he will be released at some point — Mr. Koetsier said he wanted to do something for Sgt. Speer’s family.
“I think of that individual who lost his life. Nowhere do I hear about that. It’s all about the poor Khadr individual,” Mr. Koetsier said.
“If our Canadian citizen murdered someone, then maybe as a Canadian we can help at least educate this man’s children.”Report Typo/Error