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John Doyle: You aren’t informed on Omar Khadr until you see this

In what seems like the distant past now, before the creation of the Magic Kingdom that is ruled by Justin the Good, things were different.

Our Glorious Leader and his posse expended a lot of energy on demonizing certain people and certain policies. No one was more demonized than Omar Khadr. To call the Khadr case a lightning rod would be an understatement.

Well, I'll tell you this – you don't really have an informed opinion on Omar Khar until you've seen a major documentary on CBC Thursday night.

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Omar Khadr: Out of the Shadows (CBC, 9 p.m. on Firsthand) is a shorter version of the film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival as Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr. It has also played at other festivals and won awards. Directed by Patrick Reed, the co-director is Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, who wrote the book Guantanamo's Child.

The doc has formidable restraint, very carefully presenting views about Khadr, his actions and his treatment in Guantanamo and by the Harper government. In the middle is Khadr himself. Once seen and heard, he is not the elusive figure on whom so many people projected so much. He's just there, talking, remembering. This is when you can reach for a valid judgment.

We hardly need reminding, but the facts of his case are relevant. He was a grade-school kid when his father moved the family to Afghanistan. When the United States and others invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was convicted of murder for throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Army medic. Then came a decade at Guantanamo, torture and interrogation, and eventual transfer to a Canadian maximum-security prison in 2012, later to a medium-security prison. He was released on bail earlier this year.

In the doc, we first see a lot of the news coverage about his release. The point is to underline the controversy that has surrounded Khadr for so very long. Then we hear Khadr say, "Each person is capable of doing great harm or great good." And someone else shouts, "He is a murderer, he is a terrorist!"

His lawyer, Dennis Edney, a colourful character worth meeting, says on the day of his client's possible release, "I have a lot of trepidation.

"It's not only Omar Khadr that gets released. I need to be released." Edney's wife cries, overcome by her husband's words. "This has been one long haul," she says.

Asked what he has to say to then-prime minister Stephen Harper, Dennis Edney says, bluntly, "Mr. Harper is a bigot. He wants to prove he's tough on crime, so who does he pick on? A 15-year-old boy." Khadr himself says of Harper, "I'm going to have to disappoint him. I'm better than the person he thinks I am."

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The prisoner's status as a 15-year-old then becomes the focus. We are taken carefully through the events in Afghanistan that led to the battle and his arrest, both from Khadr's perspective and that of an American officer who was there. The officer, too, breaks down. He's thinking about the comrades he lost.

The torture and interrogation in Guantanamo is described. Vividly, and be warned, you can be disturbed by it. A fellow prisoner says, "He looked like an autopsy had been performed on him while he was alive."

The interviews with Khadr himself are unnerving. The calmness. The acknowledgment that, under the calm, there is something haunting him: "It's gonna take some time to ease up. One of those days, I'm just going to crawl under the bed and cry my eyes out."

Yes, there is a positivity in Khadr's outlook, which is utterly remarkable. That is, in part, down to him, his slow coming to terms with what happened to him and others. But the documentary suggests that an extraordinary role was played by Edney, whose advocacy was unstinting. He is now a father-like figure to Khadr. It is up to viewers to discern Khadr's true feelings. But it does seem that he is fully, terribly aware of what he did when he was, essentially, a child soldier. Now, as an adult, it is the promise of a peaceful life that anchors him.

On his release months ago, as we see and hear in the doc, Edney said to reporters, "Omar Khadr is not going to have a lengthy conversation with you. He has never been out. He has never smelled the fresh air or seen the trees. I am going to go slow with him. But he needs to address the Canadian public."

Here he does, and now, when you watch this, you can have an informed opinion.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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