OMAR HAS LAWYERS COMING OUT HIS ARSE, ASSISTANCE FROM OUR EMBASSY, RED CROSS, ETC, ETC, ETC…HE’S FARED MUCH BETTER THAN OUR SOLDIERS WHO HAVE COME HOME DEAD….ALL THIS SIMPING AND HANDWRINGING FOR A GUY THAT HAD NO PROBLEM LEAVING CANADA TO BE A TERRORIST….
One last chance to do right by Khadr
Fate has thrown one last opportunity to the Prime Minister to finally do the right thing and bring Omar Khadr home to Canada.
I have returned to Canada after a week of observing the latest chapter in Khadr’s unending saga at Guantanamo Bay — the continuing determination of the U.S. government to try a child soldier for war crimes. And I return struck with the fact that the Canadian government has this unexpected chance to protect his rights. It is so unexpected and steeped in the drama of his lawyer collapsing in court, that one is even tempted to believe that this time it might be impossible for the government to resist.
Last week was a tumultuous one for the young Canadian citizen who has been trapped in Guantanamo’s labyrinth of injustice for almost eight years. After five years of kafkaesque legal shenanigans, his trial before an unfair military commission was underway. We were about to steam through what was predicted to be more than 25 prosecution and defence witnesses. After many years of delays things were now moving quickly.
On the first day a number of outstanding legal motions were dealt with in short order by the presiding judge, Col. Patrick Parrish. Most critical was a defence motion seeking to exclude statements Omar made during more than 100 interrogation sessions at Guantanamo and, before that, the notorious Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Khadr has made credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment he experienced at that time. One interrogator, his first, has confirmed that to be true. Sgt. Joshua Claus has admitted that during an early interrogation, while 15-year old Omar was still recovering from injuries that had nearly killed him during a firefight with U.S. forces, he angrily threatened him with the prospect of being sent off to a U.S. prison where he would be raped and likely killed by “big black guys and Nazis.” But it took Col. Parrish no more than 90 seconds to rule that all of the statements would be admitted. Friday the judge released a ruling finding there were no credible allegations of torture, and Khadr made self-incriminating statements voluntarily.
Then there was jury selection, offering troubling glimpses into government attitudes. They were vehement, for instance, that an army lieutenant-colonel who was aware of the human rights problems at Guantanamo Bay should be excluded from the jury. He had repeatedly stated that he agreed with President Barack Obama: Guantanamo should be closed. In a confusing and disturbing twist of logic, prosecutors argued that agreeing with the president was somehow proof of anti-government bias. The judge did not grant their request. Prosecutors used their one “free pass” to boot him off the jury.
Opening statements from both sides offered further insights. Notably, government lawyers did not in any way acknowledge Omar’s young age at the time of the alleged offence. Not one word was uttered; let alone the two words of central concern: child soldier. For his part, Omar’s lawyer summed up the terrible influence that his father had on his son, propelling him out onto the battlefield while he was still a young teen. As he put it, Omar’s father “hated his enemies more than he loved his son.” Without as much as a pause it was on to the prosecution’s first two witnesses. Both were centrally involved in the firefight at the heart of the case. Neither saw Omar throw the grenade that killed a U.S. soldier (in fact no one saw Omar throw that grenade). Both explained why they assume he is the one who threw it.
And then at the end of the fourth day of proceedings, with cross examination underway, Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson — Khadr’s lawyer — coughed, asked for a brief recess, waited for the seven members of the jury to leave the room and then collapsed. It has, fortunately, proven not to be life threatening. But it has resulted in a further delay of at least 30 days in the trial.
It is a delay that offers the Canadian government one last chance to do right by Omar Khadr. It also offers a chance to demonstrate to the world that we do in fact stand by the important international legal standards dealing with child soldiers that Canada was instrumental in developing.
To date we have heard nothing but silence and excuses from the government. The Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal have both ordered the government to seek his repatriation. The Supreme Court has found that the Canadian government continues to violate his rights and that those violations must be remedied (by repatriation or some other means). UN human rights experts and agencies such as UNICEF have called on the U.S. government to abandon this trial and for Canada to seek his return.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defiantly refused to do so. It is a position that has become a source of both international puzzlement and national embarrassment. I was even asked by various soldiers stationed at Guantanamo why Canada seemed so indifferent to Omar’s fate.
It is an untenable position not worthy of our nation. But it is not too late to change it.