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Ambassador Julie Albers about 'Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr'

“You can’t truly regret things that you don’t have control of.” These are the words of Omar Khadr, after he has suddenly been released from a sentence that took up almost half his life. He patiently answers questions from the press in front of his lawyer’s house, but preceding this happy ending are 13 years spent in prison. An era that started when he was only 15 years old.

This documentary tells the story of 28-year old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who spent a decade in Guantánamo Bay. Omar and his family were in Afghanistan when the USA invaded the country after 9/11. His father helped victims of the war, and was according to the U.S. allegedly an Al-Qaeda fundraiser. Omar started working as a translator for insurgents fighting U.S. forces, but footage of him building explosives is also shown. In 2002 he was captured by American soldiers and charged with war crimes. “I wasn’t thinking about morality,” Omar says, “it was more a reflection of what my surroundings thought.”

The common opinion in the U.S. was slightly different. “It was clear he was an Al-Qaeda terrorist,” says a U.S. soldier, “he had plenty of opportunity to leave.” While Omar is subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, and interrogators try to get ‘the’- i.e. their – truth out of him, the Americans merely speak in terms of “killing Americans” and “bad things, bad people”. Still, it is clearly visible that they are emotionally struggling when speaking about Omar.

In the end, it isn’t made explicitly clear what Omar is guilty of. The point is that he was a minor when he was put behind bars, and is the only juvenile ever tried for war crimes. To me, his story also illustrates the superficiality and pointlessness that sometimes characterises the justice system. And the way the public is influenced, for example by the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who declared several times with certainty that Omar is a terrorist. Without any clear evidence.

But then there is Dennis Edney, a Canadian defence lawyer who took Omar’s situation to heart. It took him four years to gain access to his files. When he first visited Omar, he looked like a “fragile yet frozen, broken bird”. But Edney persisted, described to Omar what Alberta – his hometown – looked like, and treated him like a son once he got out.

The most remarkable aspect of this documentary is Omar’s attitude. In a conversation over breakfast with Edney’s wife, he tells her his “likes”: peace, goodness, happiness. Despite everything that has happened to him, he radiates a certain calmness and acceptance. He never allowed the guards to enter his mind. And he even speaks of his time in prison as if it was a random adventure: “I have come to know myself because of this experience.”

Although the atrocities that take place in Guantánamo have been known for a long time, the ongoing attempts of President Obama to close the prison highlight the continuous relevance of this topic. While he has been trying to do so since 2009, only last month he sent a new plan to Congress, determined to end this chapter before his presidential term is over. This documentary underlines the necessity of achieving this.

At the end I was left with a mixture of feelings: despair, anger but also hope. At least I was reminded again of why I care about human rights, and why I want to continue studying it. The documentary rubs in how utterly unfair the world can be, and how much there still is to be improved. Yet it also portrays the tremendous victory once one manages to do so, like Edney did. But most of all, let us embrace our fate and our enemies the way Omar does: with respect and forgiveness.

Ambassador Julie Albers about 'Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr'

“You can’t truly regret things that you don’t have control of.” These are the words of Omar Khadr, after he has suddenly been released from a sentence that took up almost half his life. He patiently answers questions from the press in front of his lawyer’s house, but preceding this happy ending are 13 years spent in prison. An era that started when he was only 15 years old.

This documentary tells the story of 28-year old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who spent a decade in Guantánamo Bay. Omar and his family were in Afghanistan when the USA invaded the country after 9/11. His father helped victims of the war, and was according to the U.S. allegedly an Al-Qaeda fundraiser. Omar started working as a translator for insurgents fighting U.S. forces, but footage of him building explosives is also shown. In 2002 he was captured by American soldiers and charged with war crimes. “I wasn’t thinking about morality,” Omar says, “it was more a reflection of what my surroundings thought.”

The common opinion in the U.S. was slightly different. “It was clear he was an Al-Qaeda terrorist,” says a U.S. soldier, “he had plenty of opportunity to leave.” While Omar is subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, and interrogators try to get ‘the’- i.e. their – truth out of him, the Americans merely speak in terms of “killing Americans” and “bad things, bad people”. Still, it is clearly visible that they are emotionally struggling when speaking about Omar.

In the end, it isn’t made explicitly clear what Omar is guilty of. The point is that he was a minor when he was put behind bars, and is the only juvenile ever tried for war crimes. To me, his story also illustrates the superficiality and pointlessness that sometimes characterises the justice system. And the way the public is influenced, for example by the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who declared several times with certainty that Omar is a terrorist. Without any clear evidence.

But then there is Dennis Edney, a Canadian defence lawyer who took Omar’s situation to heart. It took him four years to gain access to his files. When he first visited Omar, he looked like a “fragile yet frozen, broken bird”. But Edney persisted, described to Omar what Alberta – his hometown – looked like, and treated him like a son once he got out.

The most remarkable aspect of this documentary is Omar’s attitude. In a conversation over breakfast with Edney’s wife, he tells her his “likes”: peace, goodness, happiness. Despite everything that has happened to him, he radiates a certain calmness and acceptance. He never allowed the guards to enter his mind. And he even speaks of his time in prison as if it was a random adventure: “I have come to know myself because of this experience.”

Although the atrocities that take place in Guantánamo have been known for a long time, the ongoing attempts of President Obama to close the prison highlight the continuous relevance of this topic. While he has been trying to do so since 2009, only last month he sent a new plan to Congress, determined to end this chapter before his presidential term is over. This documentary underlines the necessity of achieving this.

At the end I was left with a mixture of feelings: despair, anger but also hope. At least I was reminded again of why I care about human rights, and why I want to continue studying it. The documentary rubs in how utterly unfair the world can be, and how much there still is to be improved. Yet it also portrays the tremendous victory once one manages to do so, like Edney did. But most of all, let us embrace our fate and our enemies the way Omar does: with respect and forgiveness.

Zoeken in Films

ZOEKEN ALGEMEEN

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