Canadian child in the dock at Guantanamo show trials

April 29, 2007 at 12:20 am 3 comments

While mistreatment of Afghan detainees has made the news this week, a Toronto-born Canadian is about to be put on trial by a U.S. military kangaroo court at the notorious Guantanamo prison camp for “crimes” he committed as an “illegal combatant” between the ages of 10 and 15.

More and more citizens of the world’s democracies are speaking out loudly against the “Guantanamo gulag” and the so-called “military tribunals” as flagrant violations of international law, human rights, and the Convention on Torture. The U.S. Administration stubbornly flouts the rule of law in the name of the “war on terror” (grammatical aside: how do you make war on a noun?), and many human rights advocates are asking whether the war is not against terrorism but against justice.  

But more compelling for the average Canadian are the brutal facts of one particular case, published this week by Amnesty International. Nineteen-year-old  Mr. Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen born in Canada was captured by American Forces in Afghanistan in July 2002. Even though a child of 15 at the time, he was sent to Guantanamo, where he was held under appalling conditions. He was refused pain medications for his wounds. A bag was placed over his head and guard dogs let loose in his cell. He was immersed in ice water. His hands were tied above a door frame where he dangled for hours. His pleas to use the toilet were denied until he urinated on himself. He was frequently held in isolation for more than a month. He was beaten by guards and partially throttled by a hand on his neck, then lifted up by his neck while shacked and dropped to the ground. Still a child, he was threatened with rape and torture. 

Conditions like this would, I think, reduce many of us to whimpering wrecks. But Omar didn’t break. He joined dozens of other prisoners in hunger strike. My physician friends tell me that a hunger strike is extremely dangerous for one so young. He lost 30 pounds, and was sent to the hospital only after he vomited blood, either from a stomach lesion or from the tube used to force feed him. No civilian doctors were allowed to examine or treat him, despite warning from experts that Khadr’s treatment could cause permanent harm and put him at severe risk for suicide.    

And now he has been put on trial for crimes that may put him in a military prison for life. The main charge against him: that he threw a grenade at a US soldier when a group of fighters, including members of his own family, were being mowed down by American fire. Throwing a grenade was a futile gesture, at worst a really stupid move. But in all honesty, how many of us did not do at least one really stupid thing in our adolescence? 

Even at the tender age of 15, Mr. Khadr believed himself to be a soldier of God fighting a godless enemy. He was, in effect, a child soldier. As such, his rights and safety are protected by a half dozen or more United Nations conventions and Security Council Resolutions. Every one of these was voted on and ratified by the United States.

And what was the Canadian government’s response? Not to send help, but to bring in interrogators from CSIS to assist the Americans. Mr. Kadr quotes one as saying, “I’m not here to help you. I’m not here to do anything for you. I’m just here to get information”. Only after Amnesty International turned its powerful spotlight on Omar Khadr’s plight did the Canadian government agree to raise the case with the US authorities and attempt to provide him with an independent medical evaluation. But at no time has our government publicly criticized the United States for such despicable treatment of a Canadian child.

In time, history will probably view the Guantanamo gulag as a blot on the American human rights record comparable to the American (and Canadian!) internment of their citizens of Japanese origin. But retrospective condemnation, while safe and comfortable, does not help those who suffer now. Edmund Burke (a conservative, like our Prime Minister) famously remarked that for evil to prevail it is only necessary that good men do nothing. Whatever else you may do, everyone who reads this can do one thing for Omar Khadr: email the Prime Minister and demand that his rights as a Canadian citizen be restored to him.

In her award-winning short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas“, the American writer Ursula K. LeGuin describes a utopian society whose happiness depends upon the abominable wretchedness of a single child. At the end, she writes of those who could not bear the Faustian bargain, and walk away. As I read the Amnesty report on Omar Khadr, her powerful words took on a prescient meaning: what does our well-being avail us, if it is bought with such misery?




Entry filed under: Mike Wallace.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. OfficialPro  |  April 30, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    You’re defending Omar Khadr? After all the rotten things he and his family have done? Don’t you remember his mother and sister going on TV, saying it was better for Omar, Abdul, and the rest of the men in that family to become al Qaeda martyrs instead of, and I quote: “…indoctrinated into homosexuality.” Are these the values we want promulgated in our society?! Omar Khadr does not hold Canadian values to be good; he holds his warped version of Islam (not the genuine Islam) to be superior. He is not tolerant of you, or your “progressive” views, and if he ever got his hands on you he’d throw a grenade at you too. Or behead you. A “soldier of God” is something we don’t want here in Canada, and I’m betting if he were a warped brand of Christian instead of a warped brand of Muslim you’d be saying something very different about this.

    The fact is, international law isn’t set up to deal with this. You can make passing comment about some imaginary rule that forbids something, but the truth of the matter is that the current treaties and laws that you’re referring to DO NOT APPLY.

    Is the United States the one that made him be a “child soldier”? NO! HE AND HIS PARENTS DID! Charge them and the people who ran the mosque and madrassa that he went to.

    Omar Khadr was brainwashed by his family. While that is regrettable and unfortunate, it in no way mitigates what he has done. He chose a means of fighting that does not include putting on a Uniform, therefore the Geneva Conventions mean absolutely nothing to him.

    If you actually found a way to have him “let go”, what would you do when he blows up something in Canada?

    And, I wouldn’t take his word for squat in his accusations about what happened to him. He could be totally lying–or embellishing and exaggerating–and you’d never know.

    And I gag on your ignorance about his motivations of throwing the grenade. NO, it was NOT a mere “stupid move”! HE WANTED TO BE MARTYRED! It’s like an attempted suicide-by-cop!

    If the Americans had Clifford Olsen like this, would you be as anxious to get him outta there?

    Torture isn’t good, but the definition of the term is now used in a manner so as to be quite broad so as to be almost meaningless now. However, Omar Khadr should go away to prison for the rest of his life, regardless of anything else.

    Don’t kid yourselves. If USA ever succumbed to Radical Islamism (not to be confused with genuine peaceful Islam), Canada would be next on their list. France is even having troubles. And the Dutch never did nothing to nobody but look what happened to Theo Van Gogh. Oh yeah, that’s right….Holland legalized prostitution and smoking weed and shooting up heroin……….oh that’s gotta have NOTHING to do with it, right? Uh-huh…

  • 2. Adam Yoshida  |  April 30, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Yes, I agree – Khadr shouldn’t be on a trial, and it’s a disgrace that he is.

    Like other illlegal combatants throughout history, he – and most of the rest of his wretched family – should have been summarily executed on the battlefield. One shot, one kill. To the back of the head. Fair and just.

    Really, anything less than death for that piece of sub-human shit is an insult to the rest of the human race.

    If we lived in a just world, that whole wretched family would be wiped out to the ninth degree, as was once the practice in Imperial China.

    It parituclarly disgusts me that the one Khadr, I forget his name – wounded in action fighting against the West – is actually being cared for by my tax dollars. That makes me partiuclarly angry. I just wish he would die.

    And before you get all whiny about their “rights” – they’ have none or, at the least, have no moral claim on them. “Human rights” are for humans, not for sub-human trash.

  • 3. OfficialPro  |  May 1, 2007 at 11:06 am

    I find it interesting that “peace” activists will cry about “illegal wars” (i.e. Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever) but will NOT cry about “illegal combatants.”

    Why do the forces of the West have to be the ones to lay down their arms? Why not agitate where it’s needed, where it will do the most good? Go to Taliban/al-Qaeda land with your “no war for oil” signs, but scrub out the “oil” and replace with “Allah”. See how well that goes over. Because if you can’t convince THEM to be quitters, asking the West to be a quitter is only going to cause the West harm–in the manner of Radical “Fundamentalist” Islamist bigots that make Fred Phelps look like Bill Clinton taking over and all the hard-fought advocacies of abortion, SSM, etc will have been a complete waste of time, and not only that, grounds for beheading by the likes of Omar Khadr and his buddies.

    Omar Khadr should have been killed on the battlefield but they wanted information from him. It’s a tricky thing to mix a civilian criminal justice procedure with military operations and the rather new phenomenon of “illegal combatants.” The CJS will not stop the likes of Khadr, sadly only a bullet to the brain will. It’s a regrettable but unavoidable fact of life. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but we’re talking about the self-defense of Western Civilization as we know it. And I don’t mean defense of McDonalds’–I mean, defense of abortion rights, SSM, access to dirty books, Showcase and Bravo after 10pm, and the like.


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