The Trials and Tribulations of Omar Khadr

Written by: Zanab J.S. 

In the twilight hours of July 27th, 2002, Omar Khadr stepped out of his makeshift home in Afghanistan towards a brilliant white light. 

The Beginning (2002)

At 15 years old, Khadr had not yet experienced the growth spurt boys his age hope for, and when the shrapnel of a recently lobbed grenade made its way to him, it would be his left eye and chest that weathered the most damage. Had he been a few inches taller, a few beats quicker, it is possible he would still be able to see with both eyes instead of one. With two quick bullet wounds in his back, Khadr would collapse into the dust, the incendiary light fading around him.

Not knowing at the time he had stepped into the middle of a firefight between Afghan belligerents, and American soldiers, Omar had been shot twice following the detonation of a grenade--an act which would kill one soldier, and an act for which he would be blamed. Khadr would later beg for the American soldiers who caused his injuries to kill him, not knowing at the time his story--the following story--had only begun. 

The next time Khadr would wake it would be in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he would undergo several surgeries. His interrogation and torture would begin before he had a chance to heal, and the surgeries he needed most to recover his vision would be denied as a form of punishment. 

At 15 years old Khadr would be refused painkillers, he would be forced to carry heavy weights to exacerbate the injuries in his shoulder, and would be threatened with rape constantly. His nickname would be "Buckshot," he would be made to work "like a horse", and despite diplomatic requests from Canada, the country of his birth and his first home, he would be sent to Guantanamo Bay. 

Though still a child, Khadr's status as enemy combatant would be that of an adult, and he would be treated as such throughout his imprisonment. Each day constituted a different torture, a different technique, and it would not be until 7 months later that a representative from Canada would travel to meet the young prisoner. 

Expecting help from the country of his birth, Khadr would not realize until a year later that the visits from CSIS officials were interrogations, not interviews for his repatriation. These meetings lightly disguised as consul visits would siphon information from Khadr to those who sought it most at Guantanamo. The highest court of Canada would allow this to continue for two years. 

An unlikely confession of lobbing the grenade--which he himself was injured by--would be extracted from the teenager under extreme duress, violating every known principle of the act of confession. 

From 2003 to 2008, Khadr would face litanies of abuse: from beatings, to threats of rape, to isolation and physical confinement, all aspects of physical and psychological warfare would be expended on Omar. Confidential information shared with his lawyers would be demanded from him, violations of the American constitution and Canadian charter of rights would become frequent. 

In 2004, at the same time as Omar was being kept in complete confinement, without windows in his room or human contact for days, an American lieutenant would boldly lie to the world and say "we no longer hold juveniles in Guantanamo." 

Omar Khadr, at the age of 15 years old//AFP.

Omar Khadr, at the age of 15 years old//AFP.

The Trials (2005-2008): 

The first tribunal to decide the consequences of Omar's standing as a child soldier violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Geneva Convention almost simultaneously. His testimony and confession received under duress and torture--though inadmissible in most courts--became the beacon for his conviction of major war crimes in this one. Charged with murder at 15 years old, the Canadian child soldier would become a prime candidate for the American death penalty. 

The second tribunal would place even harsher charges on Khadr for his alleged actions on July 27th, and would continue to charge Khadr as an adult rather than a minor. When the presiding judge demanded documentation of evidence from the prosecution, and consequently, evidence which would reveal some of the illegitimate practices of abuse and torture used to extract Khadr's confession, he would be removed from his post and replaced with another judge. 

Illegitimate Actions of the Canadian Government

For years, the Canadian government denied any responsibility to repatriate Khadr. Instead of working to gain his extradition, Canadian officials assisted the United States in seeking his conviction.

Displaying false intentions and lying to Khadr on multiple occasions, Canadian consul members spied on a citizen of their own country to piece together any evidence of his wrongdoing before handing it over to the American army. In a stunning display of betrayal, and a violation of the Canadian charter, Canadian intelligence officials worked to wrongfully prove Khadr guilty, rather than ensuring him the safety and due process which is his birthright. 

The undeniable illegality of these actions would be made public through a federal court ruling in 2007 in which the Harper government was declared in violation of international law. The original trial sought the release of video evidence of Khadr's interrogations, and consequently video evidence of the interrogation torture techniques used by the Canadians. 

The Canadian government, in a desperate attempt to complete their original mission of dumping Khadr to the U.S. once and for all, sought an appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada to deny the turn over of video evidence. 

The SCC ruled in favour of Khadr and the videos of Omar's abuse and tortured were made public to the world. After 5 years, the world was finally about to see the result of illegal collusion between the Canadian intelligence agency, and the American army against a 15 year old child soldier. 

Omar Khadr (left), pictured with Dennis Edney in 2015. 

Omar Khadr (left), pictured with Dennis Edney in 2015. 

Guilty Plea, Repatriation (2009-2015)

What is largely described as an effort to return home, Khadr plead guilty to the crimes positioned against him. The Harper government would continue to deny Omar's repatriation until the SCC's unanimous ruling against the Canadian government and the illegality of their reluctance to protect Khadr. 

It would be another 2 years of hellish imprisonment before Omar would return to his birthplace in a maximum security prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence. The conservative government, true to fashion, would deny his right as a convicted juvenile and keep him under conditions harsher than usual for someone serving his sentence. 

The End (2015-Present)

Omar Khadr completed the remainder of his sentence in Canada. Since 2015 he has lived with his lawyer Dennis Edny as a component of his probation. Khadr is engaged to Muna Abougoush, an advocate who raised awareness for his cause throughout his imprisonment. 

Khadr sued the Canadian government for their violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by colluding to convict Khadr rather than protecting him via extradition. He was awarded 10.5 million dollars in July, 2017, for the mistreatment he suffered for 13 years.

For inquiries regarding this article, tweet Zanab J.S. @zanabism.