Omar Khadr was in the news again the other day. Remember him? The Canadian citizen charged and convicted as a ‘war criminal’ by the U.S. Kangaroo courts at that infamous U.S. legal black hole, otherwise known as Gitmo, back in 2010.
Khadr’s lawyers held a press conference last week to try to shame the government (do they even have any at this point?) into honouring their agreement with the 25 year-old , to extradite him to serve the rest of his eight year sentence in a Canadian prison.
If there is a striking irony throughout Khadr’s ordeal, it surely must be his stubborn, some would say delusional, refusal to believe that his government would betray him, even though the Canadian government has repeatedly done just that by, among other things, giving him false hope when they sent CSIS agents to interrogate him back in 2003, with the intention of gathering evidence that would eventually be used against him at his trial (For an excellent account of this episode I recommend watching the Canadian documentary You Don’t Like The Truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo).
The prosecution worked out a plea bargain with Khadr, requiring him to plead guilty to the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, in exchange for their assurance that he would be allowed to return to Canada, his birthplace and home for much of his childhood. Now the Harper government is dragging its feet on the extradition, making it the only western state with detainees at Gitmo to completely wash its hands of its nationals, despite U.S. requests that he be repatriated .
Setting aside the question of Khadr’s guilt which is, legally speaking, a moot point, there are many other troubling legal questions that the trial raises, including the fact that he is being tried as an adult despite the fact that the incident occurred when he was only 15 years old, thus making him a child soldier according to international human rights law.
As Senator Roméo Dallaire, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, has said, “We need to respect the international convention [on the rights of child soldiers] that we have signed.”
“The United States and Canada have both been guilty of violating these conventions, particularly concerning the rights of children and…the goal of making sure that child soldiers are demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated.”
Shockingly, even National Post columnist Chris Selley agrees with this point, although he points the finger at former Liberal foreign minister Bill Graham, in charge of the Khadr file in 2002 when the situation first came to the government’s attention. Selley’s not buying the argument that the minister did everything he could to repatriate Khadr, saying bluntly, “What he knew then was that 15-year-old Canadian, a child soldier by definition, was being held in Cuba without access to consular visits. The world’s grown-up nations made an exponentially bigger fuss about their adult detainees.”
Then there’s the matter of the military commission’s set up for trials of detainees at Gitmo. These ‘courts’ involve military juries, have highly suspect standards regarding evidence (especially the kind obtained through torture, by definition inadmissible in a regular U.S. criminal court or any international tribunal), and were designed by the U.S. government to provide legitimacy to a quasi-judicial process that has lacked basic due process from the word go. It’s hardly surprising that most human rights lawyers, like Andrea Prasow former defense attorney for the Pentagon, condemned the whole process stating, “I don’t think anyone looking from the outside can say it was a fair trial and that justice was served.”
Harper may not like it, but he needs to bring Khadr home, as he promised the Americans, to spend the rest of his jail time in a Canadian prison, no matter how unpopular politically such a decision might be with his supporters. Every other major democratic government has done their part, it’s time we do ours.
Photos courtesy of the Howl Arts Collective and 4WardEver UK via Flickr