4 Reasons Why You're Wrong About Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr, following his release from Canadian prison in 2015//AFP

Omar Khadr, following his release from Canadian prison in 2015//AFP

Written by: Zanab J.S.

You don't have to like Omar Khadr.

You don't have to congratulate him on his engagement. You don't have to celebrate his 10.5 million dollar settlement with the Canadian government. You don't even have to believe in his "innocence."  

But what you can't do is imply Omar Khadr's civil suit against the government and his release from Guantanamo Bay was somehow unfair, unconstitutional or illegal. What you can't do is say the apology he received from the leader of this nation was undeserved. What you can't do is say he "should've been kept at Guantanamo". 

If any of the above skepticism sounds familiar, then this article is for you. 

#1: Omar Khadr Most Likely Did Not Kill American Army Medic Christopher Speer. 

In 2002, 15 year old Omar Khadr found himself in the midst of a life-changing moment: a firefight in Afghanistan which caused the death of one American medic, a number of Afghan belligerents and irreparable damage to Omar's body and psyche. 

Omar Khadr was charged with throwing a grenade during the firefight which resulted in the death of Christopher Speer--and it is this allegation which comprises the basis of justification for his torture, illegal confinement, violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom and the contemporary vitriol of many Canadians. 

However, incensed Canadians seem to be forgetting one thing: there is an overwhelming chance this allegation is not true. 

Omar Khadr at the age of 15//AFP

Omar Khadr at the age of 15//AFP

Aside from an extracted confession signed by a mentally abused Khadr following intense torture and threats, there is little evidence to suggest Khadr was the one to throw the grenade that killed Speer. 

According to Sandy Garrasino of the National Observer, photos of the crime scene in 2009 appear to contradict the report provided by the prosecution team itself. According to Garrasino, the meagre and contradictory evidence would never have resulted in a charge had the trial taken place in Canadian jurisdiction, let alone several tribunals. Certainly, the reputation of Omar Khadr would be very different had Canada fought for his return. 

Upon analysis of the photos and the testimony provided, it seems only 2 possible scenarios could have occurred and neither of those scenarios include the prospect of Khadr throwing a grenade. 

With the evidence in his favour, and the wrongdoings of the American army and sloppy attempts to criminalize Khadr stacked against them, the overwhelming anger of Canadians at "rewarding a murderer" is no longer based in reality, and is challenged by well analyzed facts. 

#2: Canada Violated the Charter of Rights and Freedom, as Well as International Law

There is an idea floating among Canadians that the Harper government's lack of apology and decision to prevent Omar's repatriation, unlawfully, was somehow for the sake of the greater good. We know now, 15 years and 2 unanimous Supreme Court of Canada rulings later, that they were not. 

In 2008, federal judge Richard Mosley ruled that the Canadian government had violated international law by interrogating Omar instead of petitioning for his repatriation. 

When Omar's defence team sought the release of videotapes containing the illegal interrogations of Khadr, the government claimed the footage would "jeopardize national security" to prevent the SCC from allowing its release. In the end, the SCC ruled against the Canadian government, citing a violation of s. 7 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. 

The highest court in Canada had finally confirmed what activists, journalists and advocates had always argued: the Canadian government had a duty to protect Omar and seek his repatriation. Their decision to instead aid the American government and unlawfully interrogate and siphon information from Omar was a violation of both Canadian and international law. 

#3: Omar Khadr Was a Child Soldier, Not an Enemy Combatant 

At 15 years old, Omar was considered a child soldier by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations, the foremost international body to recognize juveniles at war. Despite concerns presented at multiple points throughout his imprisonment, the U.S. wrongfully tried and sentenced Khadr as an adult.

Omar Khadr with long time defence lawyer, Dennis Edney//2017 AFP

Omar Khadr with long time defence lawyer, Dennis Edney//2017 AFP

It is without question Omar Khadr's involvement with the Afghan belligerents is reprehensible, and certainly there is a conversation to be had about the fateful life events which led him to embrace such an environment. But these questions cannot be directed to a young teenager in a war zone, they must be directed to his guardians, his parents--those who are responsible for the well being of children. 

It is universally accepted that child soldiers are products of volatility; young, impressionable children following the orders of their seniors, led to terrifying places and lengths by adults who can influence them. Certainly, 15 year old Omar Khadr is not an exception to this rule, and certainly, he cannot be blamed for crimes directed by adults who failed him. 

For the United States to treat Omar as an adult, and for the Canadian intelligence community and government to enable this decision is a violation of universally accepted laws surrounding child soldiers and the commitment to their protection and rehabilitation. 

We do not need the multiple SCC rulings against the Harper administration to know that the Canadian government failed Khadr when he needed them most. To realize this, one only needs to see the video of Khadr, young, terrified and having been sleep deprived for 21 days, being interrogated by Canadian officials who were sworn to help him. 

#4: The Charges Laid Against Omar Khadr Were Illegitimate at Best, Unlawful at Worst

Until Omar, no children had been tried for war crimes since World War II. This in itself tells a story of America's thirst to prosecute anyone fitting the profile of 'the enemy.' Having invaded and failed in Iraq, and watching the embers of tactical failures in Afghanistan mount higher and higher, it is not difficult to envision a reality where the U.S. needed to claim a victory through the conviction of Khadr. 

"The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible – the adult recruiters – should be prosecuted. The children involved are victims, acting under coercion...Anyone prosecuted for offences they allegedly committed as a child should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards providing special protections. Omar Khadr should not be prosecuted by a tribunal that is neither equipped nor required to provide these protections and meet these standards."
--Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF

As a child soldier, Omar should never have been held accountable for crimes committed as a child under coercion of adults. The United States failed their commitment to international juvenile justice standards, to their constitution, and to the spirit of human rights as a whole. The Canadian government, fully complicit in enabling the prolonged torture of Khadr for 15 years, stood idly by as the U.S. attempted to lay the direst of charges on a child. 

Omar Khadr was failed not only by his father, who allowed Omar's indoctrination into the most dangerous of operations, but by two of the most powerful and (allegedly) democratic nations in the world. He was failed by Canada, his home, his birthplace, and punished for 15 years for crimes  that could not be attributed to him. When there is a failure of such a massive accord, and a violation of constitutional and charter rights on such a prolonged scale, a due must be paid. 

The story of Omar Khadr does not begin in Bagram air base following the firefight in Afghanistan, it does not begin in Guantanamo, or in the home of Dennis Edney, Khadr's first home following his return to Canada--it begins when Canadians and Americans alike are able to admit to their mistakes and take responsibility for the insurmountable pain and torture afflicted on a young child, and can apologize for their shamelessness, betrayal and disruption of justice. 

For more information about this article, tweet the author @zanabism.

A.N.: This article is dedicated to Omar Khadr and all child soldiers currently in the midst of a war they did not ask for.