TORONTO - Hours after a disbelieving Omar Khadr arrived in Canada following his 10 years in the notorious U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, among his first questions was whether he could get a pen and paper so he could carry on his studies, one of his lawyers said Sunday.
Khadr, who spent the weekend trying to come to terms with his new digs — a maximum security facility in eastern Ontario — was also keen to see his family, especially his mother but might have to wait a while longer, said Brydie Bethell, who visited her client on Saturday and Sunday.
Bethell said Khadr, 26, was "just sparkling" but could barely believe he was finally out of American hands and back in Canada.
"He's been dreaming about this moment for 10 years, so it's profoundly momentous for him," Bethell said in an interview.
"He's been the victim of incredible manipulation, and many promises to him have been broken, so that disbelief is also born of that experience of abuse and betrayal."
Amid intense secrecy, the Toronto-born Khadr was flown to Canada early Saturday, leaving behind the prison condemned by human-rights activists around the world as a legal black hole where he was the lone westerner and youngest inmate.
He was taken to Millhaven Institution west of Kingston, Ont., for a period of assessment — normal procedure for new inmates — before authorities decide where he will serve out the remaining six years of his eight-year sentence for war crimes.
He will be eligible for parole within about six months.
Khadr is "desperate" to be a normal, contributing member of society, Bethell said, noting that he has been studying various subjects with the long-distance help of a tutor in Edmonton.
"He's so committed to his education," she said.
"The first thing he wanted to know is how he could get a pen and paper so he could get his homework done."
Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a military commission to five charges levelled at him by the Pentagon, including murder in violation of the law of war for the death of an American special forces soldier in Afghanistan in July 2002. He was 15 years old at the time of the offences.
His return — like most everything connected to his situation — has aroused strong passions among Canadians.
Some see him as the poster child for the excesses of the American war on terror. The Conservative government and many others vilify him as a treacherous killer.
Bethell, who has spent more than 100 hours with him, dismissed such characterizations.
"The portrayals are really based on a lack of fact, especially ones that seek to demonize him for some sort of political spin," she said.
"If Canadians have the opportunity to get to know him as a person and not simply as an image or the product of spin, they would be amazed about the kind of person he is."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also made it clear he has concerns about Khadr's family in Toronto, where they have been living quietly for several years.
His mother and two of his siblings have faced accusations they supported al-Qaida and terrorism.
In a recent interview, a close relative said Khadr considered family the "most important thing" and wanted nothing more than to be back with his mother, who "goes crazy" with distress over the separation.
Prison authorities will decide when family can visit, but Bethell said Khadr's keen desire to see his relatives after such a long separation was perfectly natural.
"They are his family, and she is his mother."
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