Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Real Outrage About Omar Khadr

"I like my son to be brave...I would like my son to be trained to protect himself, to protect his home, to protect his neighbor, to see a young girl innocent, being raped or attacked, to really fight to defend it. I would really love to do that, and I would love my son to grow with this mentality...[a]nd you would you like me to raise my child in Canada and by the time he's 12 or 13 he'll be on drugs or having some homosexual relation or this and that? Is it better? For me, no. I would rather have my son as a strong man who knows right and wrong and stands for it, even if it's against his parents."

Those were the words of Maha el-Samnah, the matriarch of the now-infamous Khadr family and an Al Qaeda sympathizer whose husband was killed in a 2003 U.S drone strike on Taliban militants in Pakistan's volatile border region with Afghanistan.  It was her and her husband's decision to uproot their young family and move to Pakistan in 1987 which inflicted the first in a series of injustices against Omar Khadr and his siblings.  During the years that followed, Khadr flitted between Canada and Pakistan, later being manipulated by his father's associates into planting IEDs and ultimately engaging in combat with American soldiers under the guise of serving as a translator to foreign "visitors".  Omar Khadr during this chapter of his life committed acts that were undoubtedly wrong, and yet it is important to note that the crimes he was accused and convicted of were committed by a brainwashed fifteen year old with little understanding of the conflict in which he was engaged, an assessment shared by the United Nations, who officially designated him a child soldier in 2010.  The frankly galling failure of those in Guantanamo, Washington and Ottawa to account for this fact in their subsequent prosecution of Khadr was the primary reason behind the ultimately needless fifteen year legal saga which ensued.

Omar Khadr was tried in a court which could not provide a fair and transparent trial.  Since the military tribunals commenced in 2001, 3 of the military personnel appointed to serve as prosecutors resigned, citing a biased and unfair legal process.  Further, Colonel Fred Borch, who served as Chief Prosecutor, was forced to resign when leaked memos purported to reveal that he had bragged about jeopardizing the integrity of the proceedings, and that the officers on the commission had been chosen because they could be trusted to convict those brought before them.  Furthermore because much of the evidence provided by the government in these cases are legally flimsy intelligence reports, if the same notions of evidence and "the burden of proof" which exist in the civilian court system were applied to the Guantanamo proceedings, the government would simply not be able to convict.  To that end, the standards for evidence admission were tweaked so that the reliability and validity of such reports would not be questioned.  In doing so, U.S officials ensured that the tribunal system would not pass muster if an American citizen were to be tried there, seeing as how they blatantly infringe upon several 6th Amendment rights.  And then there's the matter of "enhanced interrogation", and how the confessions and intelligence extracted from them were oftentimes false and/or of little value.  Khadr's attorney claims that his client was waterboarded during his time at Guantanamo, a claim which the U.S government vehemently denies.  If true, the confession to murder which was the bedrock of the plea deal that labelled Khadr a terrorist and war criminal would not be admissible as evidence in court.  Even if we were to not recognize children utilized by terror organizations as child combatants, Khadr's trial was nonetheless a travesty in the eyes of not just international law, but American law as well.  

But perhaps the most outrageous aspect of this case was what wasn't done.  As a Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr was entitled to certain protections and a degree of support from his government, chief among them ensuring that he was receiving fair and equitable treatment under the laws of the United States.  Not only was this not fulfilled, RCMP officers sent to interview him turned their notes over to prison officials, abetting an illegal detainment.  Further, consular officials are supposed to encourage the speedy processing of cases against Canadians held abroad, but this was also not done, nor was a formal repatriation request made by the government at any point during Khadr's detainment without charge.  While Omar Khadr's ordeal began under Paul Martin's Liberal government, it worsened under Stephen Harper.  Countless NGOs, legal experts and even the Supreme Court of Canada harshly criticized the Tory government's actions with regards to Khadr, and yet they only doubled down.  Earlier this week in a last ditch attempt to prevent him from being released, the government argued that releasing Khadr on bail would do "irreparable harm" to U.S-Canada relations.  This failed, as the presiding justice said that the government had failed to produce evidence that the U.S shared this belief.

And so as this decade-and-a-half long ordeal finally winds down, what actually was Khadr?  A war criminal, as the government suggests?  A victim of terrible circumstance, as his many boosters claim?  As he embarks on his new life with hopes of becoming a medic, we shall no doubt find out.  Currently a $20 million civil suit against the government is underway, and Khadr is appealing his criminal conviction in the United States.  So while the ultimate fate of Khadr remains up in the air, an important question to consider is this; When the Canadian government willingly abets the torture and illegal imprisonment of one of its own citizens, a 15 year old boy nonetheless, who is the real war criminal here?