Of all the prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, few have received the kind of intense political discussion and extensive media coverage that Omar Khadr has.
In 2002, Khadr was accused of killing U.S. Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, a combat medic, during a skirmish in Afghanistan. He was captured, linked to al-Qaeda, and detained at the ripe old age of 15. For the past decade, Khadr has been depicted as everything from a vicious child terrorist to a political martyr. It’s little wonder some American and Canadian observers have expressed confusion about the question of Khadr’s guilt for so long.
The issue will soon reach a new boiling point. In October 2010, Khadr finally admitted his guilt in Speer’s brutal death. As part of the plea agreement, he would spend one more year at Guantanamo Bay and then be sent back to his native country, Canada. Khadr’s lawyers have reportedly started the repatriation process, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s no longer America’s problem — and becomes Canada’s.
Ezra Levant, a lawyer, political pundit, and TV host, is one of many Canadians who would rather not see Khadr come back. His new book, The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies, and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr (McClelland & Stewart, 264 pp., $27.99), is a well-researched and highly readable account of the last Western prisoner at Guantanamo. Refusing to accept conventional wisdom, Levant systematically breaks down the myth that many of Khadr’s left-wing supporters have constructed about their hero. The picture he paints is shocking — and should make even some of his most ardent supporters think again.
How did a 15-year-old kid get involved with a terrorist organization? He grew up in Toronto, a large Canadian city renowned for its cultural diversity. His maternal grandparents, Mohamed and Elsamnah, ran a bakery on Eglinton Avenue, which is (in Levant’s words) “one of the most ethnically diverse strips of commerce in North America,” and were reportedly happy with their new life in Canada. The starting point for Khadr’s problem appears to be his parents, who, writes Levant, “hated Canada” and “wanted their citizenship for just one thing: as a convenient tool they could exploit to promote criminal Islamic jihad.” His father, Ahmed, raised money under the guise of charitable contributions from unsuspecting mosques and funneled it “to jihadists overseas so they could build bombs and buy guns to murder infidels.” Khadr’s older brother even told the CBC in 2005, “I admit it that we are an al-Qaeda family.” Ahmed had connections with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man who would become Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, going back as far as 1986.
While the virulent hatred the young Khadr developed for Western democracy and liberty started at home, he worked hard to keep feeding the beast. He met regularly with al-Qaeda leaders (as his father reportedly moved up to fourth-in-command) and visited training camps. He was trained, reports Levant, “in poisons and assassinations,” became “a pro with explosives,” and “learned how to spy, to calculate troop movements and plan attacks on them, to sabotage, [and] to select targets” — in short, he was “the prince of al-Qaeda, grooming himself to become an Islamic crime boss like his father.”
Omar Khadr’s supporters want you to think that he was a victim of circumstance, a child soldier brainwashed and forced into a horrible life. But Levant makes clear that Khadr doesn’t fit the profile of child soldiers, who are “virtual slaves compelled under duress to do things they could never otherwise imagine doing, and desperate to escape.” Rather, he “considered himself a terrorist,” and that’s how we should regard him.
So, why is Canada taking back Khadr? Sadly, the will is there to bring him back home. “The Omar Khadr Fan Club” (as one of the book’s chapters is titled) includes the liberal media, two previous Liberal governments under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, and a majority of the Canadian public. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which has been tough on crime since being elected in 2006 and “which had for years so vigorously fought off court challenges to compel them to bring Khadr back to Canada,” did the unthinkable and agreed to let him back in.
It’s pretty clear that Canada is doing President Barack Obama a favor by taking Khadr off his plate. While the Conservatives can go back on their word — and, in my opinion, should — they likely won’t. And a dangerous terrorist will soon be back within Canada’s borders.
— Michael Taube is a Toronto-based columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, and a former speechwriter for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.