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Omar Khadr is free at last

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Welcome to the fresh air and sunshine, Omar Khadr. I hope you enjoyed your lamb dinner at the Edneys' last night. I can't begin to imagine the pleasure you must have taken in the evening ritual of a family meal.

Freedom. Delivered at last from the deep pits and squalid cages built by the system to hide away the inconvenient and the lost. The masquerade of official "freedom" is to be maintained at all costs: the ugly truths of power and rule must be kept out of the light, by any means necessary.

And so a kid was thrown down a hole. And all the Sovereign's minions laboured to roll a rock over the opening, to bury him alive.

Scott Gilmore writes a perceptive column about the deeper cultural meanings of his selection for sacrifice. Like Hassan Diab, a Canadian citizen extradited to France for a crime of which he is certainly innocent, Omar Khadr is a classical pharmakos, one of us and yet separated from the majority by name and appearance.

These age-old memes are there to be enlisted by the powers and authorities -- a vital part of their armamentarium. The cultural undertow drowns the ability to think, to see, to empathize.

But through all, Omar Khadr finally prevailed. There is still the rule of law and a Charter of Rights in Canada, if both are somewhat bruised at present. The saddening thing is how long it has taken to put matters right. The saga of Omar Khadr is one of flagrant injustice, gross abuse of process, and vicious political persecution. And it's been there in plain view for all to see.

child soldier aged 15 was taken to Afghanistan by his fanatical Islamist family to take part in military operations. He had been well-prepped beforehand with the usual Abrahamic slogans, smiting enemies and whatnot, and found himself in an al-Qaeda compound when American forces decided to take it out. In the ensuing firefight, it is agreed that young Khadr threw a grenade. It is also agreed that a U.S. Sergeant (not a medic, by the way) died from an exploding grenade. But whether there were two grenades or one is still a matter of dispute.

The child, badly wounded after being shot in the back by a member of the U.S. team, and with one eye full of shrapnel, was hustled off to Guantanamo, a zone of exception where human rights simply ceased to exist. He was tortured for many months -- waterboarded, hung by his arms for long periods of time, deprived of sleep, and then illegally interrogated by CSIS agents.

He never stood a chance before the kangaroo court known as a Military Commission. When the presiding officer made too many concessions to the defence, he was promptly replaced by another, who suppressed evidence that would have helped to exonerate Khadr, while permitting doctored evidence to be introduced by the prosecution. A prison psychiatrist testified that Khadr was an unrepentant terrorist, founding his evaluation upon the dubious work of an Islamophobic Danish kook.

The outcome was a plea bargain, made under obvious duress: facing decades in prison after a fake trial run by unconstrained military hard men, Khadr pleaded guilty to five charges in order to get out of Gitmo and home to Canada. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Throughout all of this maltreatment of a Canadian citizen born in Toronto, Stephen Harper and his sado-political buddies in Cabinet, notably Vic Toews and more recently Stephen Blaney, did everything in their power to thwart justice and continue the persecution. A sexed-up dossier prepared by a Department of Public Safety policy munchkin was used to justify harsh conditions on his return. Khadr was grudgingly repatriated, then held incommunicado in various maximum security prisons. The Harper government fought his attempts to obtain bail every step of the way, losing fight after fight, until Khadr was finally released this week.

Khadr's lawyer Dennis Edney told the plain unvarnished truth when he stated that Harper is an anti-Muslim bigot. Given the travails of other Canadians of beige hue with funny names at the hands of his government, one would have thought this screamingly obvious by now. The double standards in evidence when it comes to Canadian citizens have been up in lights for some time.

We should not imagine that the Harper government has no more cards to play. It is at least arguable that the recently passed citizenship bill C-24 could be used to attempt to have him deported to Egypt, despite being born in Canada. Nothing at this point should surprise us: the Conservative government has a long record of single-minded vindictiveness. Much will hang on Khadr's appeal in the U.S. courts against his Guantanamo conviction -- which some believe has an excellent chance of success.

But in the meantime, the soft-spoken, personable young man who stood before the cameras last evening before sitting down to a family dinner has rejoined our community at last. "I will prove to [Canadians] I am more than what they thought of me," he said. "I will prove to them I'm a good person....I'm excited to start my life."

About time. For God's sake let him get on with it.

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