Omar Khadr Transfer: Guantanamo Child Soldier Confident Of Canada's Religious Freedom

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Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has requested that the U.S. turn over the sealed eight-hour video of the Omar Khadr interview. AFP PHOTO / Pool / Janet Haml
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has requested that the U.S. turn over the sealed eight-hour video of the Omar Khadr interview. AFP PHOTO / Pool / Janet Haml

TORONTO _ Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr said he foresaw no problem living as a devout Muslim in Canada even though most Canadians hold different religious views, according to parts of an interview the government is now demanding to access in its entirety.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has requested that the U.S. turn over the sealed eight-hour video of the interview with Dr. Michael Welner, whose damning testimony helped prompt a military commission jury to sentence Khadr to 40 years.

However, partial transcripts offer some insight into the forensic psychiatrist's approach and into how Khadr, now 25, envisaged life on his return to Canada.

"What do you think it would be like for you, as a devout Muslim, living in Canada?'' Welner asks in the interview that took place over two days in June 2010.

"I'd practise my religion, and everybody can practise his own religion,'' Khadr answers.

"Do you feel that it's easy to practise your religion in a devout way there?''

"Well, I hope nobody would tell me not to practise my religion, but I think I have confidence that Canada is not going to try to harm me.''

The Welner-Khadr interview has taken on new prominence with Toews' demand it be turned over so he can determine whether the Canadian citizen poses a threat to public safety.

Under his October 2010 deal that overrode the jury's sentence, the Toronto-born Khadr pleaded guilty to five charges, including one related to the death of an American special forces soldier.

In return, he was given eight years in prison on top of the eight he had already spent before his widely condemned military commission trial.

The deal stipulated he would spend one more year in Guantanamo -- until October 2011 -- before transferring to a Canadian prison, but Toews has refused to allow Khadr back.

Like Khadr's Canadian lawyers, Welner said he had no problem with releasing the interview video.

"Transparency of evidence is good for forensic science,'' he told The Canadian Press from New York. "Transparency means the whole tape and not a part of it.''

Welner's view that Khadr ``marinated'' in radical jihadism and poses a serious public threat _ critics say the opinion is based on junk science _ is diametrically opposed to two other assessments prepared for the defence that Toews already has in hand.

In one report, retired U.S. brigadier-general Dr. Stephen Xenakis said assertions of Khadr's dangerousness "lack factual basis and scientific evidence.''

Xenakis, a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours observing and talking to the detainee, said Khadr appears to have sustained moderate traumatic brain injury during the bombing of the Afghan compound in which he was captured badly wounded as a 15 year old.

The injuries, subsequent incarceration, interrogations and mistreatment at the hands of his captors render any self-incriminating statements unreliable, the report states.

"As a former senior military officer, I firmly believe there are no grounds for handling Mr. Khadr as a national security threat,'' Xenakis says.

"Mr. Khadr is a peaceful, thoughtful and considerate man who has not spoken or acted angrily or aggressively despite being placed in highly stressful and threatening situations.''

Katherine Porterfield, a New York-based psychologist who also spent more than 250 hours in contact with Khadr, said in her letter to Toews the detainee showed a ``lack of anger and lack of ideologically-based anti-Western beliefs.''

Welner, who derided defence criticism of his testimony as ``comically incendiary,'' asked at another point during the interview whether Khadr lives according to Muslim religious law.

"I try to, but nobody is perfect,'' Khadr responds.

Welner goes on to ask the detainee how he would manage in Canada _ ``where people may be doing things that are just offensive to you.''

"I think you've come to know that I'm OK around anybody and I can live with anybody,'' Khadr says.

When pressed about living in a secular society, Khadr _ who also tells Welner he wants to be a doctor _ sees no problem.

"You can live a religious life with people who are not religious -- that doesn't contradict anything,'' Khadr says.

"I can be a Muslim, you can be a Christian, it doesn't have anything to do with anything.''

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