By Tom Parker, Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA
Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee currently held at Guantanamo and the last western national still in US detention, appeared briefly before a Military Commission proceeding at the base earlier today.
The Commission was in session to oversee the hand-off of the defense case to two new civilian attorneys, the tenth and eleventh to represent Khadr since his apprehension, and to entertain a Prosecution request for a further 60-day postponement in the case.
Judge Parrish granted the postponement having received an undertaking relayed by the Prosecution from Jeh Johnson, General Counsel to the DoD, that the Obama administration would definitively settle the question of the forum in which the case would be heard by November 16th, 2009.
Watching Khadr in the courtroom this morning I was forcibly reminded of just how young he was when the alleged offense occurred. Khadr is now just 23 years old and was only fifteen when he was detained in July 2002.
Khadr is accused of throwing a hand grenade at a US soldier during a raid on a compound in Ab Khail on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The soldier subsequently died of his wounds. The circumstances in which this event occurred are in dispute.
However, the wider issue here is whether or not a fifteen-year-old should be tried as an adult. Khadr was in Afghanistan with his father and not as a free agent. Yet he is being treated as a full-fledged combatant.
The United States has signed and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Khadr fits comfortably within the Protocol’s description of a child soldier.
Under the Protocol the United States is obliged to treat Khadr as a victim of abuse and extend "all appropriate assistance" to aid his physical and mental recovery and to facilitate his reintegration into society. Instead, Khadr was been detained in the harshest of conditions and tortured.
Enough already. Khadr has now spent a third of his life behind bars. His case is likely to suffer further delays – especially if it is transferred to the federal courts. When he was first detained as a child Omar Khadr deserved our understanding and the law required it. He got none.
We have an opportunity right now to put this right. As the Obama administration deliberates whether to try Khadr before the Military Commissions or in Federal Court, it should also consider a third option: dismissing the charges against him and sending him home to Canada to make a fresh start.