Khadr deal a recog­ni­tion feds went too far in war on ter­ror

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

The Omar Khadr set­tle­ment is a sign of the times. It marks a be­lated recog­ni­tion that Canada went over­board in the war against ter­ror.

The deal reached be­tween Khadr’s lawyers and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, whereby Ot­tawa pays the 30-year-old Mus­lim-Cana­dian roughly $10 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion, is not the first of its kind. It won’t be the last.

Prod­ded by the courts, the gov­ern­ment is ad­mit­ting that its pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with na­tional se­cu­rity in the years fol­low­ing 9/11 al­lowed — and in some cases en­cour­aged — the abuse of Cana­dian cit­i­zens and res­i­dents.

Ear­lier this year, Ot­tawa qui­etly set­tled with three other Mus­lim-Cana­di­ans — Ab­dul­lah Al­malki, Ah­mad El Maati and Muayyed Nured­din — to avoid a court judg­ment.

That came al­most 10 years af­ter an in­quiry, headed by for­mer Supreme Court jus­tice Frank Ia­cobucci, found that the ac­tions of Cana­dian se­cu­rity of­fi­cials had con­trib­uted to the tor­ture of these three men in Syr­ian and Egyp­tian jails.

The trio filed a $100-mil­lion law­suit. It is not pub­licly known what they set­tled for.

This spring, Ot­tawa also set­tled one of two law­suits filed by Abous­fian Ab­del­razik. He’s the Cana­dian who was stranded in Su­dan for six years (some­times in jail, some­times not) be­cause suc­ces­sive Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments made it im­pos­si­ble for him to come home.

Stephen Harper’s Con­ser­va­tives fi­nally re­lented in 2009, but only af­ter a fed­eral court judge forced their hand.

Two years ago, the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment also set­tled, for an undis­closed amount, a bizarre case in­volv­ing Al­ge­rian refugee claimant Be­na­mar Be­natta.

In 2001, Cana­dian of­fi­cials il­le­gally trans­ported Be­natta across the bor­der to the U.S. where they handed him over to the FBI as a ter­ror sus­pect.

The Amer­i­cans quickly de­ter­mined he wasn’t a ter­ror­ist but kept him in jail any­way for five years. He even­tu­ally made it back into Canada and is now a Cana­dian cit­i­zen.

The big one though is the set­tle­ment reached with Cana­dian cit­i­zen Ma­her Arar. In 2007, he re­ceived $10.5 mil­lion — plus $1 mil­lion more to cover his le­gal costs — in com­pen­sa­tion for Ot­tawa’s role in his ren­di­tion by the United States to Syria, where he was jailed and tor­tured.

That set­tle­ment too came only af­ter a ju­di­cial in­quiry, which ef­fec­tively cleared Arar of any role in ter­ror­ism, forced the gov­ern­ment’s hand.

At one level, Khadr’s case dif­fers from the oth­ers. He has al­ways ad­mit­ted he was fight­ing on the side of the Tal­iban in 2002, when he was wounded and cap­tured by U.S. forces in­vad­ing Afghanistan.

The­o­ret­i­cally, Ot­tawa could have charged him with trea­son. But since he was a child of 15 at the time, I sus­pect the gov­ern­ment would have had a hard time mak­ing that charge stick.

Or, given that he was a Cana­dian cit­i­zen and child sol­dier, Ot­tawa could have pressed the Amer­i­cans to re­lease him into Cana­dian cus­tody. But to its shame, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of the day didn’t do that ei­ther.

In­stead, it col­lab­o­rated with the Amer­i­cans to con­fine Khadr, with­out the pro­tec­tion of the Geneva Con­ven­tions, in the U.S. prison camp at Cuba’s Guan­tanamo Bay — where, to put it mildly, he was in­ter­ro­gated harshly.

He spent 10 years there and even­tu­ally took the only exit avail­able — which was to plead guilty, in a mil­i­tary court of du­bi­ous le­git­i­macy, to what the United States claimed were war crimes.

These “war crimes” in­cluded killing an en­emy sol­dier dur­ing bat­tle.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the il­le­gal and co­er­cive in­ter­ro­ga­tions at Guan­tanamo Bay had vi­o­lated Khadr’s Char­ter rights.

With that rul­ing, it was just a mat­ter of time un­til he re­ceived some kind of com­pen­sa­tion from the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment. Now that time has come. Con­ser­va­tives such as party leader An­drew Scheer say Khadr does not de­serve any money. They miss the point.

The point is not to en­rich Khadr. In fact, I’d bet he would gladly give up the $10 mil­lion if he could be mirac­u­lously trans­ported to an al­ter­nate re­al­ity where none of the events lead­ing to this set­tle­ment had ever hap­pened.

Rather the point is to drive home to gov­ern­ment, in lan­guage it can un­der­stand, that the strug­gle against ter­ror­ism does not give the state carte blanche, that even those whose ac­tions make them un­pop­u­lar must be treated fairly.

Thomas Walkom writes in Torstar news­pa­pers.

THOMAS WALKOM

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