Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Case of Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr is the last Westerner being held at Guantanamo Bay. His story is a bit convoluted. He was born in Toronto. But his father -- who was no model citizen -- decreed that his son should travel to Afghanistan and be indoctrinated by the Taliban.

When the United States invaded that country after September 11th, Khadr was fighting alongside his tutors. During a firefight with American soldiers, he is alleged to have thrown a grenade at an American Green Beret and killed him. Khadr himself was wounded in the battle. The details are a bit sketchy. Initially, the officer in charge of the American forces wrote that the insurgent who had thrown the grenade had been killed. Later, he rewrote his report, claiming that Khadr was responsible for the soldier's death. Khadr was fifteen when he was taken to Guantanamo. He is now twenty-three.

During those eight years, all other prisoners from Western nations -- Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Britain -- have been repatriated and faced courts in their own countries. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have asked Stephen Harper's government to bring Khadr home. The government has repeatedly said it will not take him back.

While at Guantonomo, Khadr was interrogated by agents from CSIS -- the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service -- Canada's version of the CIA. Their methods included sleep deprivation. He was also interrogated by American agents, one of whom has testified that he told Khadr there were incidents of Afghan boys being raped by "four big black guys" to extract confessions from them.

In January, 2010, Khadr's case was argued before the Supreme Court of Canada. The court ruled that Khadr's rights -- which are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- had been violated. It did not recommend a specific remedy. But it did tell the government that it had to rectify the situation. The government's response was to send a diplomatic note to Washington, requesting that Canadian collected evidence not be used in Khadr's prosecution. It said nothing about the evidence collected and the methods used by his American interrogators.

Frustrated by the government's tepid response, Khadr's lawyers brought suit in a lower Canadian court, which ruled earlier this month that the government had a week to draw up a list of remedies to rectify the violation of Khadr's constitutional rights. In the meantime, Khadr went before a military tribunal and announced that he had fired his military defence attorney -- something the judge would not allow. He also revealed that he had been offered a plea bargain -- a thirty year sentence, including five of the years spent at Guantanamo, and twenty five years to be spent in a Canadian prison. He had rejected the deal, he said, because, "I have been used too many times when I was a child, and that's why I'm here -- taking the blame for things I didn't have a choice in doing, but was forced to do by elders."

The Harper government is appealing the latest court ruling. It has no intention of bringing Khadr home. It would much rather let the American justice system deal with him. It argues that the government's right to set foreign policy trumps the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- a surprising shift for a political party which claims that government intrudes tyrannically on individual liberties, and which insists that the courts have been negligent when it comes to delivering swift and sure justice. The truth is that Mr. Harper and his colleagues believe that Canada's laws are to be obeyed when it is convenient to do so. They are shrewd folks. But they are entirely devoid of courage.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

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