The trou­bling dilemma of Omar Khadr

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - BY ROBERT MCGAR­VEY

It seems no­body is very happy about the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pay­out to Omar Khadr. In a sharp re­buke to the govern­ment of Canada, the Sun news­pa­per chain claimed, “... the $10.5 mil­lion pay­out to Cana­di­an­born al-Qaeda com­bat­ant Omar Khadr will be a millstone around the Lib­eral’s neck ...”

The ed­i­to­rial went on to say, “re­ward­ing and then apol­o­giz­ing to Omar Khadr, ex­pert bomb maker and the killer-by-grenade of U.S. Army Sgt. Christo­pher Speer, is a slap in the face of ev­ery Cana­dian who has ever worn our coun­try’s mil­i­tary uni­form.”

Why would the Cana­dian govern­ment pay money to a ter­ror­ist?

Not sur­pris­ingly, the logic is com­pli­cated and many of the facts are hotly dis­puted. But some things are clear.

Omar Ahmed Sayid Khadr was born in Toronto and at 10 years of age moved with his fam­ily to Afghanistan where his fa­ther worked with a NGO (non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion). The 15-year-old Khadr, in the com­pany of Is­lamist fight­ers, was in­jured dur­ing an at­tack by U.S. forces on an iso­lated com­pound in Afghanistan in 2002.

While still un­con­scious, Omar was cap­tured and taken to Ba­gram air base, where he was in­ter­ro­gated. De­nied med­i­cal treat­ment for his wounded eye, Khadr was sub­ject to abuse, hav­ing his hands tied above a door of his cell where he was hung for long pe­ri­ods of time. He was forced to carry five-gal­lon pails of wa­ter to ag­gra­vate his wounded shoul­der. De­nied ac­cess to a wash­room, Omar was forced to uri­nate on him­self.

Cana­dian con­sular of­fi­cials sent let­ters stat­ing, “var­i­ous laws of Canada and the United States re­quire spe­cial treat­ment of Khadr due to his age” (15) and re­quest­ing that, as he was tech­ni­cally a ‘child sol­dier’, he not be trans­ferred to the Guan­tanamo Bay prison camp.

That’s pre­cisely where he was taken.

Omar was kept in the high­est max­i­mum-se­cu­rity di­vi­sion. He was placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment for long pe­ri­ods of time, de­nied med­i­cal treat­ment, in­ter­ro­gated harshly and, dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tions, threat­ened with ren­di­tion to Egypt where he was as­sured un­speak­able tor­tures awaited.

While be­ing held in Guan­tanamo, Khadr was tried un­der spe­cial mil­i­tary tri­bunal for the mur­der of Sgt. 1st Class Christo­pher J. Speer.

It was al­leged that dur­ing the fight­ing at the com­pound, Omar threw the grenade that killed Speer.

At his sec­ond mil­i­tary tri­bunal trial in 2006, more de­tails of the fire­fight came to light. Khadr was dis­cov­ered un­con­scious, prob­a­bly stunned by the ini­tial blast that de­stroyed the com­pound and was not the only sur­vivor. An adult Mu­ja­hedeen fighter had also sur­vived and it was this fighter, sub­se­quently shot and killed, who most prob­a­bly had thrown the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer.

In 2010 with con­tro­versy swirling around al­le­ga­tions of tor­ture and a mil­i­tary tri­bunal process that was grow­ing ever more un­cer­tain, po­lit­i­cal pres­sure be­gan to grow on the Bush administration.

It was at this time that the U.S. be­gan pres­sur­ing Cana­dian of­fi­cials to repa­tri­ate Khadr.

Af­ter the elec­tion of Barack Obama, Amer­i­can of­fi­cials be­gan work­ing fever­ishly to find a face-sav­ing so­lu­tion. They landed on a plea bar­gain whereby Omar would plead guilty to all charges in ex­change for an ad­di­tional year in Guan­tanamo and repa­tri­a­tion to Canada (this is vig­or­ously de­nied by Cana­dian of­fi­cials).

De­spite the de­nials, Omar ac­cepted the plea bar­gain and was trans­ferred to Cana­dian cus­tody on Septem­ber 29, 2012, to serve the re­main­der of his sen­tence.

Romeo Dal­laire, a child sol­dier ad­vo­cate, pub­licly ad­vo­cated for Omar Khadr’s repa­tri­a­tion. Canada is a strong sup­porter of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing child sol­diers and in 2002 signed on to the op­tional pro­to­col that re­quires sig­na­to­ries to give spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion to cap­tured en­emy fight­ers un­der the age of 18.

Clearly, the child sol­dier ar­gu­ment would sup­port Khadr’s repa­tri­a­tion de­ci­sion, de­spite the fact it was strongly op­posed by both Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments. Whether the sub­se­quent Lib­eral apol­ogy and the $10.5-mil­lion pay­out in com­pen­sa­tion for his rights vi­o­la­tions is po­lit­i­cally wise re­mains to be seen. Robert McGar­vey is chief strate­gist for Troy Me­dia Dig­i­tal So­lu­tions, an eco­nomic his­to­rian and for­mer man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mer­lin Con­sult­ing, a Lon­don, U.K.-based con­sult­ing firm.

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