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Q&A: Brydie Bethell, the latest lawyer to represent Omar Khadr, reveals her client’s post-Guantanamo plans

Q&A: Brydie Bethell

Omar Khadr has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 for killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. He hired you last year. Did he seek you out, or you him?
He sought us out. My co-counsel, John Norris, and I had appeared before the Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010 on related cases. I was familiar with
the territory.

Khadr has churned through at least 10 lawyers, often claiming to have lost faith in them. Was it difficult to gain his trust?
It’s difficult with any client. What makes my relationship with Omar complicated is that I can speak to him only through a secure line at a location in the D.C. area or by visiting him at Guantanamo.

You worked for the UN in the Middle East, did your master’s at the London School of Economics and studied law as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Did any of that prepare you for this case?
Not even close. At the UN, I was based in Jordan and travelled all over, but I was basically an intern. I learned that writing policy papers wasn’t what I wanted to do.

How many times have you visited Khadr?
I’ve made four trips, and each time spent a number of full days with him. If I count up the days in person and the time on the phone, it’s well over 100 hours.

What do you talk about?
At the start, he often asks about the news, and what’s happening in my life. My dad died recently and I started running. I guess it was a way for me to deal with my grief. He thought it was so cool that Toronto practically shuts down for marathons. I’ve asked him if he’ll run one with me one day. I’m sure he’d kick
my butt.

What are his hopes beyond getting out?
He wants to be normal: pay his bills, go shopping. He wants to go to school and eventually study medicine. He wants a book bag because that’s what he associates with school.

He’s 26. In some ways, is he still a child?
Well, I think all males are immature. But Omar is very wise, and I keep marvelling at his gentle spirit. He also has a remarkable emotional maturity. When he’s scared or sad, he copes by reading or doing
his homework.

You’re talking about the correspondence courses that Khadr has been taking with a professor from Edmonton.
Yes. Omar has been reading one book from every province. For Ontario, he read In the Skin of a Lion. He liked Who Has Seen the Wind, by W. O. Mitchell. I’m from Saskatchewan, so he asked if I spent a lot of time in fields as a little girl.

The Sun TV pundit Ezra Levant believes Khadr has duped you into thinking he’s harmless. Is that possible?
Duped me? Well, Levant should meet my mother. She’ll tell him that I’m not easily duped. And for Levant to draw wild conclusions having never met Omar is ridiculous. This is my job. I’m a criminal defence lawyer. I deal with accused murderers and drug dealers all the time.

You’ve met Khadr’s family a number of times. Is his mother as militant and angry as media reports suggest?
I found her to be incredibly warm. I’m Ukrainian, so I’m used to family members who are very tactile, in your face. Lots of “Why aren’t you eating? You’re not fat enough!” Lots of touching, even my flab. I found her strangely familiar in that way.

She grabbed your—
No, she didn’t grab my flab. But she had that warmth.

Khadr’s plea deal prohibits him from making money via a speaking tour or book deal, and he can’t sue the U.S. government. How will he support himself?
He’s an adult now. I imagine he’ll do what everyone does: work hard in school, get good grades and reap the benefits.