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By Jennifer Turner, Human Rights Researcher, ACLU Human Rights Program

Today marks a decade in U.S. custody for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who is Guantánamo’s youngest prisoner.  Even though he has been eligible for transfer back to Canada for almost nine months pursuant to his October 2010 plea deal, he is still detained at Guantánamo.  Khadr is the only one of the 168 remaining detainees who was a juvenile when transferred to Guantánamo.

Khadr has grown up at Guantánamo.  Now 25, the full beard Khadr has grown since his imprisonment in 2002 obscures the fact that he was only 15 when he was shot and captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

After his capture, Khadr was taken to Bagram near death:  he had been shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast.  U.S. personnel interrogated him within days, while he was sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher.  He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn’t cooperate with interrogators.  He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator waslater court-martialed for abuse leading to the death of another detainee.  During his subsequent detention at Guantánamo, Khadr was subjected to the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program and he says he was used as a human mop after he was forced to urinate on himself.

In 2004, Khadr was charged with war crimes in the Guantanamo military commissions, accused of throwing a grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer.  In October 2010, Khadr pled guilty to all charges against him, in an 11th-hour plea deal that averted the scheduled resumption of his military commission trial.  If Khadr’s trial had gone forward, it would have been the first war crimes prosecution of a child soldier since World War II, and the first ever in U.S. history.  Khadr pled guilty in exchange for an eight-year sentence, on top of the eight years he had already served at Guantánamo.  Under his plea agreement, after serving one more year, he was eligible to apply to serve out the rest of his sentence in Canada.  The arrangement required the assent of the Canadian government and an exchange of diplomatic notes between the U.S. and Canadian governments, which took place immediately before Khadr agreed to the plea deal.

According to his Canadian lawyer, Khadr’s acceptance of the plea deal was “a hellish decision” in order “to get out of Guantánamo Bay.”  Self-incriminating statements that were coerced out of him by interrogators at Bagram and Gitmo were to be used against him at trial, and his case had been plagued by legal and procedural problems since he was first charged in 2004.

During his decade of detention, Khadr was abused, interrogated more than 100 times, and slated for trial by the discredited military commissions, instead of being held separately from adult detainees and enrolled in education, reintegration and rehabilitation programs as required by international law.  Without access to those programs, Khadr told a government-hired psychiatrist that he is studying GED books and textbooks well-wishers have sent him, but has found it difficult to teach himself: “Since I stopped school at eighth grade and it’s been eight years, some things are hard to learn by myself.”

Our government’s treatment of Omar Khadr flies in the face of international law and policy that recognizes child soldiers as victims and candidates for rehabilitation.  In contrast, the former Pentagon official who served as chief prosecutor for the U.N. war court convened to prosecute those responsible for wartime atrocities in the 90’s in Sierra Leone chose not to prosecute anyone under 18 at the time of their crimes. Although children committed some of the most heinous abuses of the Sierra Leonean civil war, including murder, rape, and amputation of limbs, that war crimes court instead entered these child soldiers in rehabilitation programs and they became witnesses in the war crimes trials against the adults who recruited or used them during the war.  Author Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone who, like Khadr, was captured when he was 15, has criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of Khadr.  Beah admits that during the civil war he killed “too many people to count,” but since a stint in a rehabilitation center he has written a best-selling memoir, graduated from Oberlin, and served as a UNICEF ambassador.  Beah has said he struggles to understand the dramatic difference between the compassion shown him and the lack of compassion shown Khadr.

Khadr has now been eligible for transfer back to Canada for almost nine months—since October 31, 2011—but the Canadian government has yet to request the transfer.  Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has reportedly refused to authorize it, saying Khadr’s potential threat to Canadians needs to be evaluated.  Instead, Khadr has had to turn to the courts in an effort to force the Canadian government to keep the promise it made to let him return to Canada.  Last week Khadr’s lawyers filed a new application asking a Canadian court to order Minister Toews to make a decision.

Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire recently circulated an online petition to bring Khadr to Canada, which has garnered significant public support.  According to an op-ed by the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada published this week in Canada’s Globe and Mail,

"Canada’s role has been a disgrace.  Three prime ministers, representing two different political parties and presiding over five different governments, could have taken action.  Those prime ministers were served by a total of eight different foreign ministers and five defence ministers, all of whom had the opportunity to do right by Mr. Khadr.  None did.  Now Mr. Khadr’s fate rests in Mr. Toews’s hands, and still nothing."

Canada must do the right thing.  Minister Toews should sign the transfer request and finally put an end to this decade-long debacle by bringing Omar Khadr home from Guantánamo.

Originally posted to ACLU on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 12:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by Bloggers Against Torture.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Absolutely correct. The willful abandonment of (8+ / 0-)

    a Canadian citizen (and a child at that) to torture, abuse and almost indefinite detention by a foreign government is more than a stain on the Canadian Government; it is a crime and a violation of Canadian principles and beliefs.

    I am ashamed of Canada over this and never stop demanding Omar Khadr be brought home.

    Good Diary. T&R

    Tax and Spend I can understand. I can even understand Borrow and Spend. But Borrow and give Billionaires tax cuts? That I have a problem with.

    by LiberalCanuck on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 12:33:45 PM PDT

    •  not to mention (7+ / 0-)

      my understanding is that the "crime" he is accused of is rolling a grenade at an American soldier, while part of the Afghan military - such as it existed at the time, even if not in uniform . Normally, when a combatant attacks another combatant, let alone attacks a uniformed soldier serving in an army that has invaded their country, this is referred to as "war" - at worst, "guerrilla war," not as a "war crime." The idea that they are not only prosecuting a child soldier (rather than, say, the people who recruited him) but prosecuting him simply for engaging in combat, is one of the most extraordinary attempts to change the very idea of what's a war crime I've ever heard.

      The US army has long had a habit of referring to any guerrilla forces that might be shooting at its soldier or their proxies (whether Viet Cong or Salvadorian rebels, etc) as "terrorists" just for doing so. But saying anyone who fires on an invading army unless they wear uniform is guilty of a "war crime" appears to be something new. (Especially since the people who tortured confessions out of him are not considered guilty of war crimes, or any crime at all.)

      •  And (6+ / 0-)

        the laws for which he was prosecuted didn't exist when he allegedly committed them, which makes the prosecution itself a war crime.

        Putting a suspect on trial for crimes that did not exist when the acts were committed is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on ex post facto laws. It also violates several international treaties, including article 75 of the Additional Geneva Protocol I of 1977, which says that "no one shall be accused or convicted of a criminal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offense under the national or international law to which he was subject at the time when it was committed..." The U.S. has acknowledged that this accurately states customary international law. Putting Omar Khadr on trial in a military commission for the acts of which he's accused, then, according to Professor Glazier, is itself a violation of the laws of war and a "grave breach" of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Such crimes can be prosecuted by other countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction. In the United States they're also federal felonies under the War Crimes Act of 1996.
        •  And check this out, from the (5+ / 0-)

          same piece, about his capture:

          In August, the government presented as a witness a member of U.S. Special Forces who described entering the compound where Khadr was found and ultimately seized in July 2002. The witness, identified as Sergeant Major D, was armed with an N-4 Rifle and a Glock-9mm pistol. The compound had just been shot up by U.S. Apache helicopters and bombarded by two 500-pound bombs. After sensing a grenade and small arms fire coming from an alleyway, he testified, Major D ran to the alley and shot dead a man he saw with an AK-47 and a grenade. Omar Khadr, meanwhile, was seated on the ground in a dusty light-blue tunic, his back to Major D. Khadr was not armed, he wasn't holding or aiming any sort of weapon, nor was he threatening any U.S. servicemember in any way. Yet Sergeant Major D testified that he immediately shot him twice in the back. He then walked over and "thumped him in the eye" to see if he was still alive. He was.

          Targeting a civilian not actively participating in hostilities is normally a war crime. Sergeant Major D testified that he shot Khadr because he viewed him as a "hostile" based on his being in the compound, which was permitted by the military's rules of engagement.

          •  yeah it's quite remarkable (0+ / 0-)

              I'm reading the same piece now.  I hadn't realized how far they had gone. He's basically accused of firing back at invading soldiers who were shooting at him first! Also of helping make and plant anti-tank bombs. They can claim such acts are illegal because in 2006 they retroactively defined "terrorism or material support for terrorism" as a war crime, and defined "terrorism" as pretty much anything done against US troops that isn't done by uniformed members of an army we choose to recognize as legitimate.

               Conclusion: shooting an unarmed child in the back, torturing him, and detaining him without charges for a decade is legally acceptable. Shooting back at people who do that sort of thing is a war crime.


        •  Treaties? What are they? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chacounne, RageKage

          Dubya waived laws and treaties as if they were, you know, the Constitution or some other piece of paper.

      •  Not by the U.S. government anyhow (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Everybody involved in torture got a free pass, but I'm waiting for one of them to slip up and enter a country that doesn't let them off so easily.

  •  Brain research shows that the brains of 15 (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chacounne, Burned, marina, RageKage

    year old boys are not developed enough to make adult decisions.  Children should not be held to adult standards.

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 12:44:11 PM PDT

    •  What is the age when their brains are (0+ / 0-)

      fully developed?  Thanks.

      Romney is George W. Bush without brains.

      by thestructureguy on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 02:16:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  By about 22; earlier for some. Females (0+ / 0-)

        tend to mature a bit earlier than males, on the average.

        Our brains keep changing throughout our lives, but teen brains can really be quite unconnected at times.

        Source:  "The Primal Teen" by Barbara Strauch

        ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

        by slowbutsure on Sat Jul 28, 2012 at 04:14:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Unfortunately, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, RageKage, rhutcheson

    our PM is a smarter version of Shrub, and thinks this obstinacy will play better with his 'base' than doing the right thing might.  He may be right, as his base in the Canadian west seems composed of knuckle-dragging conservative christianist fundie loons who also want to ban abortion and do a whole bunch more besides.

    190 milliseconds....

    by Kingsmeg on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 12:49:53 PM PDT

  •  Omar was not just abused, he was tortured. (5+ / 0-)

    Vic Toews said last week that he wants access to the unredacted videos and transcripts of two psychological interviews that were done with Omar. He is stalling. I have absolutely no confidence that Toews will sign the request for Omar to come home.

    I am ashamed as a Canadian and as the widow of a US Vietnam vet who survived torture.

    I will keep pushing until there is no longer breath in my body.

                     Standing for Omar,
                           For Dan,

    Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

    by Chacounne on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 12:53:41 PM PDT

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