International Politics, History, Human Rights
54′ | 80′
White Pine Pictures
Patrick Reed, Michelle Shephard
Omar Khadr: child soldier or unrepentant terrorist? The 28-year-old Canadian has been a polarizing figure since he was 15. In 2002, Khadr was captured by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan and charged with war crimes, including murder. After spending half his life behind bars, including a decade at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre, Khadr is unexpectedly released. Finally, his story, in his own words.
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Omar Khadr: child soldier or unrepentant terrorist? The 28-year-old Canadian has been a polarizing figure since he was 15.
In 2002, Khadr was captured by Americans in Afghanistan and charged with war crimes. In October 2010, Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including “murder in violation of the laws of war,” in return for a plea deal that gave him an eight-year sentence and chance to return to Canada. Khadr later recanted his confession. His Guantanamo conviction is being appealed in the U.S courts.
After spending nearly half his life behind bars, including a decade at Guantanamo, Khadr is suddenly released. Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr features unprecedented access and exclusive interviews with Khadr during his first few days of freedom in Edmonton, where he was released on bail on May 7, 2015.
This documentary delivers an intimate portrait of how a teenager from a Toronto suburb became the center of one of the first U.S. war crimes trial since the prosecution of Nazi commanders in the 1940s. Khadr is the only juvenile ever tried for war crimes. Guantanamo’s Child gives Omar Khadr the opportunity to speak for himself on camera, for the first time. Based in part on Michelle Shephard’s authoritative book Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, the documentary takes us from his childhood traveling between a Canadian suburb and Peshawar at the height of the jihad against the Soviets, to Afghanistan and the homes of Al Qaeda’s elite, into the notorious U.S. prisons at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay and back again to Canada.
Finally, his story, in his own words.
For more than a decade, Omar Khadr, one of Guantanamo’s youngest detainees has existed only as a caricature drawn and defined by others: killer, child soldier, torture victim, detainee, political pawn, terrorist, pacifist, jihadist.
We had a simple goal in making this documentary – we wanted to tell his story by allowing him to tell his story.
Neither of us wanted to make an activist film about Khadr, but rather bring to life the now 28-year-old man that has been used since he was 15 as a cause celebre to support post-9/11 campaigns on both the right and the left.
This was not a simple film to make.
The Pentagon had blocked any access to Khadr for the decade he was held in Guantanamo Bay. That was not a surprise. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to control the narrative of Guantanamo by silencing the detainees and imposing Orwellian restrictions on reporting from the base.
What was surprising was our struggle to gain access to Khadr once he was transferred to Canada. The Canadian government refused repeated requests to interview him for two years, forcing us to finally take our case to the Federal Court. As the New York Times wrote in support of our constitutional challenge: “The public has waited long enough.”
We lost that case, but the wait finally ended with the dramatic words delivered by an Alberta judge who released him on bail May 7: “Mr. Khadr, you’re free to go.”
Khadr’s history itself is compelling, but it is the larger context of his case that makes his story so important and involves the work we’ve both done over the years – Patrick with his films on now retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and child soldiers and Michelle, with her national security reporting since 9/11 that has included 26 trips to Guantanamo Bay.
Omar Khadr is not only the youngest person ever convicted of a war crime in modern history, he is also the only person ever charged with “murder in violation of the laws of war” – despite the fact that hundreds have died in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and despite the fact it was never a war crime to kill a soldier in conflict until the U.S. rewrote the laws of war after 9/11.
It is very likely that years from now the U.S. courts will overturn Khadr’s Guantanamo conviction, which they have done in the case of other detainees.
Khadr’s story embodies so many issues we deal with today: citizenship and identity, the politics of fear and the never-ending war on terror.
Confronting our own biases can be hard Omar Khadr’s story forces us to do that.
MORE ABOUT DIRECTOR – Patrick Reed
Over the past decade, Patrick Reed has collaborated on several award-winning documentaries for White Pine Pictures. These films have appeared at the most prestigious festivals, been broadcast around the world, honoured with awards and theatrically released.
One of Reed’s first assignments with White Pine was researching and co-producing the multi-award-winning Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire.
In 2007, Reed produced a ratings winner for CBC’s flagship documentary strand, Tar Sands: The Selling of Canada. He followed this up with Pets on Prozac, casting a suspicious eye on the growing phenomenon of pet pharmaceuticals.
Reed’s film Triage followed Dr. James Orbinski back to Somalia and Rwanda where he was at the centre of far too many life and death decisions during those country’s years of upheaval. Triage had its world premiere at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), where it was voted an audience favourite; and screened at the Sundance Film Festival 2008, and HotDocs, winning a number of international awards.
Reed also directed Tsepong: A Clinic Called Hope, a cinema vérité chronicle of the work of doctors and nurses fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Lesotho, Africa. Tsepong received multiple 2007 Gemini Award nominations, and screened internationally at numerous festivals.
Reed’s feature documentary, The Team – following the making of a soap opera in Kenya designed to bridge ethnic divides – had its world premiere at IDFA in 2010. The film screened at Human Rights Watch Festivals in London and New York, Full Frame, HotDocs and Silverdocs.
Reed recently completed another documentary feature with White Pine Pictures about General Romeo Dallaire and child soldiers, Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, shot in South Sudan, Rwanda and the DR Congo. The film had its world premiere at IDFA 2012, and was screened at Full Frame and HotDocs.
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
2016 EMMY Awards, USA
Best News & Documentary Nominee
2016 Yorkton Film Festival,
Won Social/Political Award
2016 Calgary International Film Festival, Canada
Won Audience Choice Award
2015 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands
2015 Rencontre International des Documentaires, Canada
2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Canada
PRESS & REVIEWS
“The doc has formidable restraint, very carefully presenting views about Khadr, his actions and his treatment in Guantanamo and by the Harper government.”
John Doyle, THE GLOBE AND MAIL
“A sympathetic introduction to a man who grew up under the worst possible conditions.”
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“More than just a stirring personal story, Guantanamo’s Child is also a cautionary tale of how fear and suspicion can infect our values and stand in the way of our fight for freedom”
“The result is a complex, nuanced and surprisingly affecting documentary that’s bound to be denounced as propaganda by people who haven’t watched it.“