In contrast to the feelings of most Canadians, the sympathy for Omar Khadr among journalists covering the story has been palpable over the past several years. Even those who've not disputed that he might be guilty of the crimes for which he was being prosecuted have tended to place responsibility at the feet of his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who moved the family back to Afghanistan where they lived in Osama bin Laden's compound.
Left unsaid in most reports is that this move would never have happened had Jean Chrétien not intervened with Benazir Bhutto to spring his father from charges that he financed the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. No one was more in tune with the sentiments of average Canadians that was Mr. Chrétien, and he certainly was no dupe. However, as prime minister he came under heavy criticism in the mid-1990s for not raising human-rights issues during his trips abroad. As to the specific case of Mr. Khadr, we turn to a couple of eyewitnesses, Craig and Marc Kielburger, for a partial explanation of why he did what he did:
"The day I met Omar Khadr was the most terrifying day of my life.
I was sitting in a meeting room in Islamabad shaking. Omar's presence was oddly comforting.
It was January 1996 and the two of us were waiting in a five-star hotel for then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. I had just turned 13. I was travelling through South Asia learning firsthand about child labour. …
Mrs. Khadr and her kids got a lot of sympathy that day as many questioned why the prime minister was unwilling to help her husband, a Canadian citizen.
Chrétien was good on his word though. He brought up both of our issues with Bhutto. I'm not sure what she said about child labour, but she did assure Khadr would receive fair trial.
Weeks later, his charges were dropped. Most Canadians, myself included, forgot about the incident. Then, after Sept. 11, the Khadr name resurfaced -this time linked to Osama bin Laden."
Reviewing the press coverage from that period, one finds that Ahmed Said Khadr was by-and-large given the same sympathetic coverage as his son has received over the past few years. We'll never know whether he deserved it, but we do know how he used the freedom it helped deliver to him.
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