The Professor and the Prisoner
A scholarâ€™s beliefs took her from Canada to Guantanamo and, she says, closer to the spirit of a liberal education.
By Ian Wilhelm
Arlette Zinck, an associate professor of English at Kingâ€™s U. College, in Alberta, heard a pessimistic talk about Omar Khadrâ€™s detention in 2008. â€œWe donâ€™t do hopeless,â€ she remembers thinking at the time. Jason Franson
Edmonton, Alberta–One afternoon in September 2008, students at Kingâ€™s University College here filled every available seat in a lecture hall, occupied the aisles, and fanned out against the wall. A guest speaker had them spellbound with the story of Omar A. Khadr.
The speaker, a human-rights lawyer from Scotland named Dennis Edney, told the students at this small Christian college how the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr had been captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan by the U.S. military and was being held in the prison at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba. Years of living in Edmonton hadnâ€™t scrubbed away the lawyerâ€™s Scottish brogue, nor had he adopted Canadiansâ€™ preference for polite talk. The young man stood no chance of receiving justice, he said bluntly. It was hopeless.
From near the front of the hall, that cold assessment hit Arlette Zinck in the gut. â€œWe donâ€™t do hopeless,â€ thought Ms. Zinck, an associate professor of English.
A short time later, although she was not scheduled to speak, she felt moved to stand up before the entire college. Ms. Zinck, slim with straight, auburn hair that frames her face, wasnâ€™t exactly sure what she would say. It turned out to be a simple message.
â€œYouâ€™ve heard a passionate advocate. Youâ€™ve heard one story. You never leave it at one story. Go out and learn everything you can,â€ Ms. Zinck 51, recalls telling the students. â€œIf at the end of that youâ€™re still wanting to do something, then know that weâ€™re not going to leave that with you; weâ€™re going to walk beside you.â€
It was a pledge. Perhaps similar to one professors make every day when they see passion in their studentsâ€™ eyes. But the commitment Ms. Zinck made that afternoon would eventually give her an unlikely new student: Omar Khadr himself. It would take her far from Canada and, some would argue, far from the proper role of an academic.
Mr. Khadr, a Toronto-born teenager, was held at GuantÃ¡namo prison for his role in the killing of an American medic near Khost, Afghanistan. Above, an image from surveillance video during his questioning in 2003.
Child soldier. Murderer. Torture victim. Terrorist.
Omar Ahmed Khadr has been called many things since his capture by U.S. Special Operations forces on July 27, 2002.
After a firefight and an airstrike on a compound seven miles from Khost, in eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Khadr was found in the dirt and rubble, seriously wounded. During the skirmish, Army Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer, a Delta Force medic, had been killed by a grenade, purportedly thrown by Mr. Khadr.
A few months after his capture, the U.S. military moved him to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. During Mr. Khadrâ€™s time in custody, his military defense lawyers said he had been beaten by interrogators and made to endure other abusesâ€”accusations that a judge rejected.
Allegations of his mistreatment provoked outrage, but the key controversy in the Khadr case was his age; at 15 he was one of the youngest captives held at the prison in GuantÃ¡namo.
Dennis Edney, shown here with Omar Khadrâ€™s mother, is a human-rights lawyer working pro bono on the young manâ€™s case. His talk at Kings U. College inspired Ms. Zinckâ€™s correspondence with Mr. Khadr.
Although military prosecutors call Mr. Khadr a hardened terrorist, Mr. Edney, who works pro bono for Mr. Khadrâ€™s family, says the detainee was but a boy sent into battle by a father who had indoctrinated him in radical Islam.
During Mr. Khadrâ€™s youth, his family moved back and forth between Canada and Pakistan, where his father ran various charitable projects for Afghan refugees. The Khadrs eventually settled in Afghanistan, where the father formed ties with Osama bin Laden. In the summer following the September 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. military response in Afghanistan, Omar Khadr joined a group of militants who wanted him to work as an interpreter. The U.S. military said he received â€œbasic trainingâ€ at that time, learning how to use grenades, rifles, and other weapons. Not long after leaving his family, he found himself in the deadly firefight in Khost.
In Canada, Mr. Khadrâ€™s case sharply divided the country. Many considered his imprisonment a necessary part of Americaâ€™s war on terrorism. Critics of the Canadian government said it should have done more to repatriate him and to speak out against the United Statesâ€™ detainment of terrorism suspects in GuantÃ¡namo.
The governmentâ€™s silence, wrote Michelle Shephard, a Canadian reporter, in her 2008 book, Guantanamoâ€™s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr,meant â€œa Canadian teenager has been interrogated, abused, and jailed in conditions worse than those afforded convicted rapists and murderers. Canada has lost the moral high ground we once enjoyed.â€
In the weeks following Mr. Edneyâ€™s visit to Kingâ€™s University College, Arlette Zinck noticed an energy building on the campus of 600 students.
A senior stopped her in the hall one day, breathlessly telling her he had been reading documents about the Khadr case.
Another day, she discovered students in the atrium ironing an image of Mr. Khadrâ€™s young face onto white T-shirts for a silent protest of his treatment.
Then a handful of students sought out Ms. Zinck and made an appeal: â€œWe want to send him a letter.â€
A commitment to social activism runs strong through the private Christian college, but Ms. Zinck was surprised by how passionate the students were. She liked the idea of a letter, remembering Matthew 25:36, which urges the faithful to â€œvisitâ€ the imprisoned.
After an attempt to send postcards to Mr. Khadr via the U.S. Judge Advocate Generalâ€™s Corps failed, Mr. Edney offered to help. On his next trip to GuantÃ¡namo, he would take letters directly to Mr. Khadr.
Ms. Zinckâ€™s first letter was short. She introduced herself and her family. She invited Mr. Khadr to come and visit one day, and included pictures of her two childrenâ€”her daughter Arielle on a horse and her son Colin playing ice hockey.
The goal was simply to let Mr. Khadr know that people back in his home country were concerned about his welfare.
She handed the letters to Mr. Edney. And she waited.
Before Mr. Edneyâ€™s talk on campus, Ms. Zinck had read only the occasional newspaper article about the Khadr case. Her passions are not political but literary.
In the classroom she has a maternal quality as she gently prods her students to think deeply about a text. She speaks with a thoughtful, quiet confidence, has a self-deprecating sense of humor, and as her colleagues at Kingâ€™s note, is fiercely determined when she sets her mind to a task.
Her scholarship centers on the writing of John Bunyan, the 17th-century preacher who wrote The Pilgrimâ€™s Progress. It tells of a lost soul who must overcome suffering and trials to make his way to the â€œCelestial City.â€
Ms. Zinck dislikes drawing connections between her scholarly focus and her interest in helping Omar Khadr. But Bunyan is widely believed to have started writing Pilgrimâ€™s Progress while in prison. Ms. Zinck would seem to draw on that fact one day to give Mr. Khadr hope. â€œSome of the worldâ€™s most important stories have been written by men in prison,â€ she would tell him.
His handwriting was shaky; words were misspelled, and the grammar at times incorrect.
But the short letter, dated October 23, 2008, spoke volumes.
I got you letter and picture and was very serprised by them. So thank you very much for them iâ€™m in your debt and what you showed me is more than what i expected and that you are true friend and as they say: The true friend is not in the time of ease but in the time of hard ship. So again thank you and iâ€™m honored to visit you when i come back.
Stay will with best wishes
Omar A Khadr
From that initial exchange, a correspondence blossomed. As Mr. Edney prepared for his trips south, which he took several times a year, Ms. Zinck would hand him a packet of letters, including hers. When he returned, it was often with a letter from his client.
Mr. Khadrâ€™s responses were usually short, expressing deep thanks for the attention from the outside world. And while his formal education had stopped at eighth grade, his words revealed an articulate, even poetic, young man.
â€œYour letters are like candles very bright in my hardship and darkness,â€ he wrote to Ms. Zinck on January 22, 2009. â€œWe hold on the hope in our hearts and the love from others to us, and that keeps us going till we all reach our happiness.â€
That summer, Mr. Khadr wrote that her words were worth more than gold because words â€œkeep you going in such hardship.â€
In a letter dated that fall, Ms. Zinck responded. â€œOmar, donâ€™t feel discouraged about the time you are spending in Guantanamo right now. Live it fully. Be kind to those around you. Know there are many of us here at home who are thinking about you. Right now you have time to read slowly and think deeply. Believe it or not this is a blessing if you will see it as such.â€
â€œBe a good student of the lessons that life is presenting to you right at this moment,â€ she wrote near the end of the letter. â€œThey are precious, uniquely yours and irreplaceable.â€
Respectful of Mr. Khadrâ€™s Muslim beliefs, Ms. Zinck, a practicing Episcopalian, never tried to teach him about Christianity, let alone convert him. But she did not refrain from expressing her own faith. â€œWhenever you are lonesome, remember you have many friends who keep you in their prayers,â€ she wrote. â€œEach morning at 9 oâ€™clock, I include you in mine.â€
More frequently, she expressed her faith in the power of education.
â€œI know you are likely busy and preoccupied these days, but I hope you have had time to do some reading,â€ she wrote on February 5, 2010. â€œReading provides an education that no school can provide.â€
In that same letter, encouraged by Mr. Edney, she asked Mr. Khadr to write a one-page book report.
Mr. Khadr responded, telling her what books he was reading: Great Expectations, the Twilight series, Three Cups of Tea, a John Grisham novel, and A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. He chose to write about that last one, the nonfiction account of a Sierra Leone teenagerâ€™s experience fighting in his countryâ€™s civil war and his rehabilitation from the horrors he witnessed and committed.
His report was a methodical summary of the book, each of his points numbered, one through seven. But his conclusion hinted at the demons in his life:
â€œChildrenâ€™s heart are like sponges that will abserb what is around it, like wet cement soft until itâ€™s sculptured in a certain way,â€ he wrote, â€œa child soul is a sacred dough that must be shaped in a holy way, for there is no good fruit in a bad earth or tree.â€
In a letter he included with the essay, for the first time, he signed off as â€œYour â€¦ future student.â€
Really, though, Ms. Zinck had already become his teacher.
During the exchange of letters, Mr. Khadr wrote nothing about the legal roller coaster he was on. After several years of uncertainty over how to prosecute detainees, in 2007 the U.S. government charged Mr. Khadr with murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.
Military-court proceedings were finally coming to a close by the fall of 2010, eight years after his imprisonment, and a military jury would decide his fate. At Mr. Edneyâ€™s suggestion, the Army lawyer who served as Mr. Khadrâ€™s counsel asked Ms. Zinck to testify at his trial, to tell the jurors about his educational potential. She agreed.
For Ms. Zinck, the relationship had been its own roller coaster. She had not expected to develop the bond she had with Mr. Khadr, and as word spread about her work with him and her plans to testify, the news media put an uncomfortable spotlight on Kingâ€™s University College.
In August, in a filing to the military commission, Mr. Khadrâ€™s defense team said Ms. Zinck would testify that the college was willing to admit Mr. Khadr â€œimmediately.â€ Ms. Zinck, who learned of the filing from a reporter withThe Globe and Mail, denied that the promise had been made. Other erroneous reports said Kingâ€™s had offered Mr. Khadr a scholarship or a tuition waiver.
J. Harry Fernhout, the universityâ€™s president at the time, began to hear a steady drumbeat of questions that grew louder as Ms. Zinckâ€™s court date neared. The university said it took no official position on the Khadr case and emphasized that Ms. Zinck was doing Christian charity on a purely volunteer basis, not as an official project of Kingâ€™s.
Most but not all faculty members and students were supportive of her. Some donors complained. In phone calls, emails, and the occasional home visit, Mr. Fernhout tried to explain the situation to them. A few balked and eventually stopped supporting the institution. (He declined to say how much the controversy cost Kingâ€™s in financial support.)
Ms. Zinck even received a pair of anonymous letters containing threats. She declines to discuss the details, but the letters were worrisome enough that Mr. Fernhout turned them over to the police.
He says the Khadr case was the most divisive issue he ever had to deal with as a university president. Yet he supported Ms. Zinck. It was only after a long talk with the president that she agreed to appear at Mr. Khadrâ€™s trial.
Their discussion had been reassuring. But on October 26, 2010, as Ms. Zinck traveled from Edmonton to Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, and from there on a charter plane to GuantÃ¡namo, she still had her doubts.
She had never met Mr. Khadr in person. Her plan was to tell the jury about the young man she had found in the five letters he sent her over two years: the thoughtful student, the eloquent soul. And just maybe, prod the jurors to question the narrative they had heard about him.
It was as if Mr. Khadr was a character in a novel, she thought, and the jury a class of students meant to interpret his actions and motivations. â€œAnd Iâ€™m a lit scholar,â€ she thought. â€œI teach people how to ask intelligent questions about a figure that you meet in a text.â€
Yet the doubts lingered. What was an English professor from Canada doing in a trial like this? What chance did she have of changing a single jurorâ€™s mind?
As she said later, â€œI knew I was going to go down to be comic relief in a very dark bit of political theater.â€
Two days after arriving in Cuba and only hours before she was to testify, Ms. Zinck was taken to an old, squat, two-story airport building with a traffic-control tower jutting from its top. It was here, in an area known as Camp Justice, where the military commissions were held. Inside the building, a member of Mr. Khadrâ€™s defense team handed her a stack of papers; it didnâ€™t take her long to figure out what it was: the confession of prisoner 0766, Omar Ahmed Khadr.
As part of a deal signed before her arrival, Mr. Khadr had pleaded guilty to all of the charges against him, making him the youngest war criminal in modern history. At the end of the documents was Mr. Khadrâ€™s signature, in the same uneven writing as he signed his letters to her.
Ms. Zinck says she didnâ€™t feel disappointment or outrage at Mr. Khadr. She says she wasnâ€™t even surprised. To her, it was just the latest sign that the system had failed him.
She still wanted to testify. The jury was unaware of all aspects of the deal and would in part determine his sentence. And though it might have little impact on the outcome, she wanted to show Mr. Khadr that the outside world had not abandoned him.
Arlette Zinck, an English professor, testified about the Omar Khadr she had come to know as her student, through his assignments and his letters. â€œI knew I was going to go down to be comic relief in a very dark bit of political theater,â€ she says.
At about a quarter to three, in a canary-yellow jacket, she took the stand. She was scared but â€œon,â€ reminded of the moments before she defended her Ph.D. dissertation. About 50 people, mostly military personnel, occupied the windowless room. And there, a few feet away, sat her student. Mr. Khadr wore a dark suit, and a trim beard covered his face. At 24 years old, he was no longer the slight boy who had been captured in Afghanistan.
They exchanged a short nod of hello and a smile.
Ms. Zinck settled into the witness chair. Hours earlier Tabitha Speer, widow of the Army medic whom Mr. Khadr had now admitted killing, sat in the same chair, talking about the life of her late husband. At one point, she had spoken directly to Mr. Khadr, saying he had stolen a father from her two children.
Now, the jury heard a different story.
Prompted by questions from Lt. Col. Jon S. Jackson, Mr. Khadrâ€™s Army defense lawyer, Ms. Zinck told the court about her background, how her relationship with Mr. Khadr developed, and the person she had grown to know.
â€œWhatâ€™s your analysis of Omarâ€™s writing of what youâ€™ve seen?â€ asked Lt. Col. Jackson.
Ms. Zinck emphasized his good character, calling him courteous, with a generous spirit: â€œHe is remarkably outward focused,â€ she said. â€œHe will always ask whatâ€™s happening to the people that heâ€™s writing to.â€
â€œAnd, of course, I mean I see an intelligent young man,â€ she added. â€œA man whoâ€™s thoughtful and has a good vocabulary and capacity to express himself.â€ If he ever wanted to apply to Kingâ€™s, she said she would write his recommendation.
The prosecution lawyer, a captain whose name has been redacted from the court transcript, seized on that statement.
Would admissions officers â€œconsider the whole Omar, which would be the fact that he admitted that he murdered someone?â€ he asked.
Yes, said Ms. Zinck.
â€œTheyâ€™ll consider the fact that he admitted that he attempted to murder as many Americans as he possibly could?â€
Yes, she repeated.
â€œThat he wanted to murder for money?â€
He hammered on the fact that Ms. Zinck was not speaking on behalf of Kingâ€™s or everyone at Kingâ€™s. Again and again, he made the point that the prisoner might not get accepted if he applied.
â€œIf Iâ€™m a betting woman,â€ she answered at one point, â€œodds are good.â€
The prosecutor brought up foul language and crass names Mr. Khadr had called guards and military officers, asking: Is that thoughtful? Is that courteous?
No, Ms. Zinck said. But she had two teenagers at home and heard that language under much less â€œdifficult circumstances.â€
When the prosecutor had finished, Lt. Col. Jackson asked whether, if Omar Khadr applied to Kingâ€™s as a convicted war criminal, it would be taken into account that he was 15 at the time of the crimes. Yes, replied Ms. Zinck, it would. And then she gave voice to what many had long argued was the crux of the case:
â€œWe treat our children differently before the law, because we understand that human beings are mutable and that it is our responsibility to protect them, and particularly our responsibility to give them opportunity to reform, right, to start again.â€
Three days later, the jury sentenced Mr. Khadr to 40 years in prison. Ms. Zinckâ€™s words had apparently fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps her testimony meant something to Mr. Khadr; itâ€™s hard to know. Mr. Edney declined to make him available for an interview.
But also sitting in the courtroom during her testimony was Katherine Porterfield, a child psychologist who works with child soldiers and victims of torture. In her mind, the professorâ€™s contribution was immeasurable.
â€œTo me,â€ Ms. Porterfield says, â€œthe greatest truth that was spoken at that entire hearing came out of Arlette Zinckâ€™s mouth.â€
As part of his plea deal, Mr. Khadrâ€™s sentence was reduced to eight years. And after one more year in GuantÃ¡namo, Canada would consider allowing him to be repatriated to serve the remainder of his time.
Exhausted and mentally drained, Ms. Zinck cried on the plane ride home, but she felt hopeful that Mr. Khadrâ€™s life was entering a new phase.
Lt. Col. Jackson had made her an offer: While Mr. Khadr remains in GuantÃ¡namo, can you develop a correspondence course for him?
Ms. Zinck relished the ideaâ€”and made it a team effort.
She brought together a multidisciplinary group of about 15 professors from in and outside of Kingâ€™s: a mathematician, a biologist, a historian, a geographer, a religion scholar, and others.
They designed a curriculum based on books by Canadian authors set in different parts of the country or exploring different cultures there, providing Mr. Khadr with a virtual tour of a home he barely knew. He readWho Has Seen the Wind, a novel about life on the Canadian prairie, andObasan, a story told through the eyes of a child about the internment of the Japanese in Canada during World War II.
They wove in lessons about math, history, and geography with the reading. For example, when he read a book that featured the Canadian Rockies, a physicist at Kingâ€™s designed a math lesson to teach Mr. Khadr how to measure the height of a mountain using triangulation.
The lessons were intended to help sustain him during his final year in GuantÃ¡namo, but he remained in limbo. In November 2011, when he was first eligible to return to Canada, government leaders gave mixed messages as to whether he would be moved.
As the months dragged on, his military lawyers sought to bolster the correspondence lessons. So, for the second time in her life, Ms. Zinck was asked to go to GuantÃ¡namo. In April and May 2012, she held what she called the â€œspring sessionâ€â€”two visits lasting a few days each.
At GuantÃ¡namo, Ms. Zinck insisted on wearing a business suit, hose, and heels despite the 90-degree heatâ€”a wardrobe that sometimes drew quizzical looks on the base. She wanted to dress as she would for classes at Kingâ€™s.
In a small room at the baseâ€™s Camp Echo, with Mr. Khadr at a small, plastic table, his ankles shackled to the floor, she taught practical lessons on essay writing and reading critically. But it was also a freewheeling affair, with Ms. Zinck recruiting others on the base to contribute brief seminars. A civilian lawyer taught Mr. Khadr about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With Ms. Porterfield, the psychologist, Mr. Khadr read journal articles and connected concepts in the psychology of trauma and resilience to his own life.
Ms. Porterfield says it felt a like graduate-level class.
For Ms. Zinck, the lessons for Mr. Khadr were a curriculum of â€œhuman flourishing,â€ approaching a Platonic ideal of what education should be. Without the pressure to transmit job skills or meet academic requirements, she and her colleagues were free to teach to the whole person. And contrary to the criticisms that she had no business giving lessons to a suspected terrorist, Ms. Zinck believes she was acting in the true spirit of liberal education, with its power to change lives.
â€œThatâ€™s ultimately what liberal arts and science education is all about,â€ she says. â€œIt builds people.â€
Arlette Zinck takes a white binder from the bottom shelf of a bookcase in her low-lit office at Kingâ€™s. She places it on a table and opens the cover.
Inside, preserved in plastic sleeves, are Mr. Khadrâ€™s lesson plans and completed tests. The professor turns the pages as if reminiscing over a family photo album.
Someday she would like to give the assignments back to Mr. Khadr. Once heâ€™s free. Perhaps to serve as a reminder of how far he has come.
In September 2012, 10 years after he was capturedâ€”and almost four years to the day from Mr. Edneyâ€™s talk at Kingâ€™s University Collegeâ€”Mr. Khadr returned to Canada.
The departure from GuantÃ¡namo was a long-sought victory, but it was not an easy homecoming. For Ms. Zinck, the sad irony was that though Mr. Khadr was closer than everâ€”held at a maximum-security prison in Ontarioâ€”she was cut off from him. As a new prisoner, Mr. Khadr had been placed under evaluation, with restricted communications privileges.
He was also a target for other inmates. Given his high profile, Ms. Zinck feared he would be hurt, or worse.
The uncertainty took a toll, and the professor drew heavily on her Christian beliefs. â€œWithout my own vibrant, personal faith, the pain of caring in a context where so, so, so many are ambivalent or opposed might be more than I can bear,â€ she says.
Indeed, many were against Mr. Khadrâ€™s return.
One of them was Ezra Levant, a Canadian newspaper columnist, who wrote about the case in his 2011 book, The Enemy Within: Terror, Lies, and the Whitewashing of Omar Khadr. In it, he lambasted Ms. Zinck as a key member of Mr. Khadrâ€™s â€œfan club,â€ saying she had â€œled the charge in turning her campus into a factory for Khadr groupies.â€ He argued that sympathetic Canadians like Ms. Zinck had been duped by the savvy Mr. Khadr.
Others have questioned whether she overlooked the hurt caused to Tabitha Speer and her family. Ms. Zinck said she prays regularly for them.
â€œPeople are going to eventually meet this young man,â€ she says, â€œand theyâ€™re going to come to their own decisions about who he is.â€
Ultimately, her work did not hinge on whether Mr. Khadr did or did not do what he was charged with. It was about restoring an individual to the larger community.
â€œFor us, itâ€™s never been about guilt or innocence; weâ€™re not lawyers,â€ she says of the team of educators she assembled. â€œItâ€™s been about the simple understanding that punishment plays some role in justice, but if thatâ€™s all youâ€™ve got, you havenâ€™t got justice.â€
While the criticism has persisted, others have rallied to support her, with some saying her involvement in a very public issue is all too rare these days for academics.
David J. Goa, director of the University of Albertaâ€™s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life, has contributed lessons on Christianity, Islam, and secularism to Mr. Khadr. He says Ms. Zinck and Kingâ€™s, with its liberal-arts focus and Christian orientation, had entered an area where most administrators and professors at larger, public universities would be reluctant to go.
To Mr. Goa, Ms. Zinck is fulfilling one of a professorâ€™s fundamental roles. â€œOne of the gifts of tenure,â€ he says, â€œis precisely to give you liberty to speak in the public square about things that are important and to enhance the conversation about it.â€
â€œIntegrity.â€ Ms. Zinck says. â€œWho has it? What does it look like?â€
It is 9:30 a.m. on a sunny winter day at Kingâ€™s, and the professor is starting to rally her sleepy students into a conversation about A Man for All Seasons and the virtuesâ€”and drawbacksâ€”of living a conscientious life.
She moves around the room, a small gold cross hanging from her neck, and tries to get the 22 students to use the text and the decision of its main character, Sir Thomas More, to reflect on their own lives. â€œWhat does living with integrity look like?â€ she asks them.
The discussion continues, but one topic Ms. Zinck wonâ€™t bring up in the classroom is Mr. Khadr. If a student asks about their relationship, she is happy to discuss it, but outside of class.
In general, few ask. While some students at Kingâ€™s remain engaged in the Khadr case, those who were provoked by Mr. Edneyâ€™s remarks have all graduated.
Mr. Khadrâ€™s case continues to receive attention from the news media, but since his release from GuantÃ¡namo, it is not the same hot-button issue it once was.
Omar Khadr (left) in an undated family photograph, before his capture in Afghanistan in July 2002. Mr. Khadr (right) as he appeared in a courtroom in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2013.
Today Mr. Khadr is imprisoned in a medium-security facility not far from Edmonton and fighting his conviction, saying he signed the plea deal because it was his only way out of GuantÃ¡namo.
Ms. Zinck was able to re-establish communication with him several months after his return and now speaks with him often. Members of the team of professors she organized visit Mr. Khadr regularly to tutor him, and other prisoners have expressed interest in joining the classes.
He is about halfway to the credits needed to receive his high-school diploma. He hopes to become a doctor. Enrollment at Kingâ€™s someday remains a possibility.
Looking back on it all, Ms. Zinck says, she never intended to become so involved. â€œLook, I got up that morning in September 2008, and I went to work. I sat in the audience and I listened because that was my job, and I watched our students because that, too, was my job, and everything else has fallen out from this.â€
And for all that Mr. Khadr has received from Ms. Zinckâ€”the letters, the lessons, the hopeâ€”she says the gifts have been returned in kind.
â€œIn getting to know this young man, I have been privileged to have observed embodied hope in a way that I have not been exposed to it before,â€ she says. â€œI have learned how to cope with fear, my own and other peopleâ€™s. Iâ€™ve learned the value of story and how engaging with narrative can open windows and doors in the most isolating prison cells.â€
Letters from Omar Khadr quoted in this article were made public at his trial. Arlette Zinckâ€™s letters to Mr. Khadr first appeared in the Edmonton Journal.
Timeline of a GuantÃ¡namo Education
September 2008: Dennis Edney, an Edmonton lawyer, speaks at Kingâ€™s U. College about the case of Omar A. Khadr, a Canadian citizen held at the U.S. naval base in GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba.
October 2008: Arlette Zinck, an associate professor at Kingâ€™s, sends a letter to Mr. Khadr. He responds, starting a correspondence.
January 2009: The relationship deepens. Mr. Khadr says the letters from Ms. Zinck â€œare like candles, very bright in my hardship and darkness.â€
February 2010: Ms. Zinck encourages Mr. Khadr to focus on his education, urging him to read often and to apply to college someday.
April 2010: At the professorâ€™s request, Mr. Khadr writes a book report on A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
August 2010: Kingâ€™s struggles with growing attention from the news media and concerns from donors about the relationship.
October 2010: Ms. Zinck testifies at Mr. Khadrâ€™s trial at GuantÃ¡namo.
November 2010: A team of professors organized by Ms. Zinck starts to develop a formal correspondence course for Mr. Khadr.
April and May 2012: Ms. Zinck visits GuantÃ¡namo to tutor Mr. Khadr.