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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.

  • Bluffer

    A criminal defense lawyer aka a bottom feeder protecting the “rights” of a murderer. Khadr and his faithful “family” should be shipped back to their 9th century village. That is where thy belong. I hope his lawyer can live with herself as him and his family are not going to go away and who know what they might have up their sleeves?

  • Laurell

    I suppose Legal Aid is paying her. In other words, more financial pressure on the taxpayers!! She is doing a great job of trying to create a positive image for him. I wonder how many will fall for it? He wants to study Medicine? hmmm With what kind of background education? GED perhaps? Maybe not.
    If he is so keen to be a Canadian….why is his still wearing that jihadist beard?

  • Erin

    I’m sad to read the comments of my fellow “Canadians”. According to Article 77.2 Protocol to the Geneva Conventions we condemn the use of Child Soldiers in areas such as Sierra Leone, yet we chose to persecute Omar due to our uneducated views on his upbringing and religion. He was a mere boy, at 9 years of age, when he was exposed to a level of violence and anger most ‘Canadians’ couldn’t fathom. What differentiates Omar from the children lured to carry AK47′s in Sierra Leone by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy?

    Beyond the general benightedness of your statement Laurell – I didn’t know that as a Canadian one must conform to a singular image. Canada represents a multicultural society, including Muslims. You should note that just because one has a beard doesn’t necessarily mean they are jihadist. Growing a beard and trimming the mustache is an obligation according to the Prophet Mohammed, the God in Islam, not a jihadist ritual! Just as growing a beard is a sign of a devote Shaivite Hindu, as they according to their religion are not permitted to own anything including a razor. Or for an orthodox Jew who follows Leviticus 19:27 in that “You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads not harm the edges of your beard”. Its time we as “Canadians” not only learn to accept our multicultural society, but learn what it actually represents instead of making arbitrary assumptions.

  • Bluffer


  • Andrew

    Bluffer I cannot decide whether or not your idiocy outshines your racism or if it is the other way around. Since “all Jihadists have beards” then everyone who has a beard is Jihadist? I think that Omar Khadr has read more books in Guantanamo than you have in your whole life. Either pick up a book or take your racist ideology somewhere else.

    Damn right he should be able to have a defense lawyer. Omar is a Canadian citizen and deserves the same rights as everyone else in this country.

  • Bluffer

    Being born in Canada does not necessarity mean that one is a Canadian. Note the Khadr family – the entire clan.

  • Erin

    Bluffer, being born in Canada doesn’t make you “Canadian”! Please, enlighten me, what makes one “Canadian” then. I would love to see how many so called “Canadians” actually live up to your subjective standards.

    Whoever wrote the beard comment, I’m not even wasting my time with you. Its beneath me and my standards of moral argument.

  • Andrew

    Which beard comment are you referring to Erin?

  • Erin

    The one by bluffer following my original post, I neglected to get far enough to read who the author was before I started to roll my eyes.

  • Mel Goddard

    I firmly believe that this man should NEVER been saddled with that charge of “murder”! Did he kill a U.S. soldier with a grenade? Apparently he did.
    But look at the situation;he was in a FIREFIGHT against his “enemy” who was also trying to kill him and his comrades.
    And that’s the rule of combat: THAT’S what enemies do is: “Kill or be Killed”!
    In the PROPER scheme of things, if HE is to be charged, then so should ALL the millions of other people throughout the World who have killed American soldiers in the last century.
    Charge one, charge them all; even those who have made North America their home.

  • Jimmy

    I think some folks are missing the point. Omar K is a Canadian citizen, entitled to the same rights, and subject to the same responsibilities, as any other citizen, since citizenship is indivisible. The Harperment has consistently ignored and denied these rights. He seems entitled to make a case for redress, and I hope he gets that chance.

    Second, like it or not, Omar K WILL eventually walk the streets of Canada. Whether under parole conditions, or after completing his full term remains to be seen. But walk the streets he will. The real issue is what kind of Omar K will emerge – will he be an angry, embittered man, or one able to recreate a life and be a productive member of society?

    It is now Corrections Canada’s responsibility to assess his needs and capabilities. I hope that, after a life in which he has been let down by every single person (family, father) & institution (Government, US authorities) who owed him a duty of care, someone thinks of his needs and looks to our future. I know what kind of Omar K I want to see on our streets.

  • havingalook2

    It saddens me to see some of the comments that are so based in hate and ignorance and bear no understanding, no attempt for compassion, the law or simple humanity. Clearly it is that mindset,that electorate that would have voted for Harper in the first place; that has permitted this travesty of justice to happen to one of our citizens. Hate is never going to win, and ours laws will prove that in the end. He is Canadian, he is a young man that has had no childhood and we do have the obligation to permit him to rehabilitate. He will make choices, let’s ensure he is given the opportunity to be a productive citizen and make the right choices. As one pointed out he has been let down, he was never provided an opportunity – especially up to perhaps now by his own country. I applaud the work this new lawyer is doing.

  • DD

    Brydie Bethell says “Well I think all males are immature”. And I think all female lawyers are castrating, man-hating, barren hags. There. You read me and I read you. Are we even now, Brydie.

  • mike

    well it is a tough decision on which of the 4, khadr, lawyer, interviewer, toronto life,,, that i have the most contempt for …. all of the above i think… all scum in my books