Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Standing Firm -- and Doing Nothing

Like the case of Maher Arar (see my post of September 29, 2006) the case of Omar Khadr is deeply troubling -- and Canada's two major political parties bear responsibility in both cases for violating the rule of law.

Khadr was fifteen years old when he was captured in Afghanistan and accused of killing a U.S. Army medic. His father had encouraged him to go fight for the Taliban; and the Canadian government clearly was uncomfortable with the elder Khadr's presence in the country. But Omar was a Canadian citizen -- he was born here -- and, thus, he should have been accorded the rights of any other Canadian citizen who found him or herself imprisoned in a foreign country. Having said that, there are some foreign countries which pay little attention to Canadian requests for humane treatment of its citizens. But, in this case, the country was the United States -- which officially holds that it is a nation of laws, not men.

When Canadian officials first met with Khadr, according to The Toronto Star, "he was lying in a military hospital bed in Afghanistan with two gaping holes in his chest -- the exit wounds of the bullets which were shot through his back before his capture by U.S. Special Forces."

Khadr was no innocent. He had been living with Taliban forces along the Pakistani border; and he well might have known about upcoming attacks. And, therefore, over the next two years, he was questioned more than forty times, in an effort to extract information from him. What is at issue, however, are the methods used in those interrogations, the acquiescence of the Canadian government in those methods, and the legitimacy of the legal process upon which Khadr -- now twenty-one years old -- is about to embark.

On July 10th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that Khadr had been subjected to what the Americans called their "frequent flyer program," a regime of sleep deprivation -- where the prisoner was moved every three hours for a period of three weeks. This information would not have come to light had not the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the release of the report. Also mentioned in the report was Khadr's claim that he had been tortured.

Khadr's claim carries some weight, in light of the fact that one of his first interrogators at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan was convicted for his role in the death of an innocent Afghan taxi driver. Add to that the revelations about what went on at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, and three U.S. Supreme Court rulings which have rejected the process behind the tribunals under which Khadr is to be tried, and it is not difficult to see why many have concluded that Khadr is about to enter a kangaroo court.

In spite of all this evidence, Prime Minister Harper claims that Canada has no "real alternative" than to let the process at Guantanamo play itself out -- even though Britain, Australia and other nations have sought and received the right to remove their citizens from Guantanamo and subject them to the legal processes of their respective countries. The reason for Harper's position, says an editorial in The Globe and Mail, is clear: "What Canadian Court would accept any statements made by a 16 or 17 year old under such duress and without being allowed to see a lawyer? (He was denied a lawyer for the first 27 months of his incarceration.)" The prospect that a Canadian Court would set Khadr free is a prospect Mr. Harper would rather not face.

Some claim that Harper has replaced Tony Blair as Mr. Bush's poodle. The truth is that Mr. Harper, like Mr. Bush, is a true believer -- who holds that extraordinary circumstances put the leaders of democracies above the law. And, sometimes, being above the law simply means not responding to injustice. But, yesterday, the World Court charged Umar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir -- the president of Sudan and a sitting head of state -- with war crimes. In the aftermath of that event, there are those who suggest that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld should have grave reservations about travel abroad after January, 2009. Mr. Harper might also consider that advice. Mere private citizens could find themselves incarcerated for a long time.

No comments: