Former child soldier Omar Khadr has been receiving more than a lesson in international politics while jailed at Guantanamo Prison, awaiting his return to Canada. He has also been studying a curriculum devised by 15 Edmonton academics, led by King’s University College English professor Arlette Zinck.
Now 25, Khadr receives lessons in physics, English and Canadian literature, and — his favourite — math, among other educational staples. He also watches episodes of “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”
The Toronto native’s formal schooling ended in grade eight, after he was taken to Afghanistan by his jihadist father, where he was eventually captured by U.S. troops and charged with throwing a hand-grenade that killed an American soldier.
Zinck, 49, began corresponding with him in 2008. She started delivering lessons to him long-distance in 2010, after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years. In April, in an unusual arrangement, she was allowed to start giving the lessons in person at Guantanamo.
“One of the more remarkable things about Omar is that he finds a way to stay positive and hopeful when many grown men would not,” she tells the Edmonton Journal. “The energy and determination he puts into his studies is impressive, especially in the exceptionally difficult circumstances.”
Khadr is chained to the floor during his lessons with Zinck. He is the only western prisoner still detained at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
In addition to reading such Canadian classics as Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell and Obasan by Joy Kogawa, about the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, he has studied the Canadian constitution and written an essay on the moral complexities of The Hunger Games.
His guilty plea was part of a deal in which the Canadian government said it would look “favourably” upon his transfer to a Canadian prison after one year. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta agreed to his release in April. His U.S. military lawyers say that Canada’s failure to uphold its end of the arrangement is hampering efforts to settle other cases.
“You made a deal,” says Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson. “Now honour the deal.”
– With files from Emily Olesen