The Hopeful Khadr

An appalling introduction to an otherwise uplifting article:

Intelligence documents accidentally released to journalists by U.S. officials [emphasis added] at a military hearing have cast further doubt on U.S. allegations against Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. An unusual mix-up by U.S. officials resulted in the distribution of top-secret documents to courtroom reporters attending Omar Khadr’s hearing in February 2008.

New revelations outlined in intelligence documents have led lawyers for the Canadian citizen to call for all charges against Khadr to be dropped. U.S. officials have charged Khadr with murder, claiming that Khadr – 15 years old at the time – threw a hand-grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight occurring in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Documents accidentally released include an interview with a U.S. intelligence agent who was at the scene of the battle, revealing that Khadr was shot twice – in the back – by the U.S. soldiers, a striking new detail in the case. An anonymous U.S. agent whose interview appears in the document additionally outlines that Khadr wasn’t witnessed throwing the grenade and that – contrary to previous claims by U.S. military officials – Khadr was not the only person alive at the time U.S. forces stormed the building in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how much of an issue the Omar Khadr case is in American media. From a Canadian perspective, it’s one of the many downplayed issues that could come to haunt our current government’s legacy if the majority of the population were ever to wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee.

When I saw this article on Rabble, I was both overjoyed and disgusted. The disgust hit first, resulting in small part because of the fact that it took an “accident” for the US government to finally come clean about the  situation, and in large part because this means that Khadr has quite possibly been sentenced to a half-dozen years in the horror-filled Guantanamo detention facilities for nothing. Not only is it now an issue of morality — whether it is just to detain a minor for throwing a hand-grenade — but an issue of facts. If Khadr has been through this without even having thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier, then what can we trust from our governments?

It’s not mentioned in the article whether or not the Canadian government knew about the information held by the Americans. But their lack of zeal in attempting to free Khadr thus far points to complacency or conspiracy — neither of which look good on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (or  the Liberals, who were in power for the first portion of Khadr’s imprisonment).

The uplifting information contained in the article is that the new information may force the Canadian government into action. At least there’s hope for the young man! Hopefully Harper really didn’t have the information, and steps up to the plate to bring this whole issue home. I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen… but crossing one’s fingers never hurt!

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephen
    Mar 22, 2008 @ 20:40:04

    wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee

    — congrats on a great line!

    For what my opinion may be worth, I seriously doubt that the Government of Canada has been in possession of this information until right now. I think Canada initially assumed, understandably enough, that the USA would not relegate anyone to Gitmo or subject them to torture without good reason.

    Andrew Sullivan has just written a post explaining what he got wrong about Iraq. (For those who don’t know, Sullivan originally supported the war.) He says one of his “cardinal sins” was a “fatal misjudgment of Bush’s sense of morality.”

    Lots of us made the same mistake: i.e., of supposing that Bush was more humane than has proven to be the case.

    Reply

  2. Random
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:15:55

    Some caution may be in order about the Khadr case, at the very least it isn’t as cut and dried as you seem to make out, the Wikipedia article about him is of interest. For startest, although he is technically a Canadian citizen he has spent most of his life in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which I strongly suspect tells you a great deal as to what he really regards himself as. As to what he was doing in Afghanistan –

    “Khadr’s father moved his family to Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 1996, where they lived in their father’s NGO office. During their stay, the family visited the compound of Osama Bin Laden, whom Ahmed had befriended during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, on occasion and the children of the two families played together. Described as one of Bin Laden’s senior lieutenants, the father moved his family into Bin Laden’s compound after the leader had abandoned it.”

    And as to whether he actually took part in the fight where he was arrested –

    “The 15-year old Khadr was captured following a four-hour firefight in the village of Ab Khail. It was considered the first major engagement since Operation Anaconda had ended four months earlier.

    A later collection of biographies written by al Qaeda praising fighters in the country mentions Omar in its article on his “martyred” father. It praises the the elder Khadr for “tossing his little child in the furnace of the battle”, and likens his son to a lion cub.”

    Oh, and it may suprise you to know that a hand grenade is just as lethal when thrown by a minor as by an adult (ignoring for a moment that 15 certainly counts as an adult in the Pashtun badlands).

    None of this is to say that he is definitely guilty, but that a bit of caution may be in order before you proclaim him an innocent victim of a gross miscarriage of justice.

    Reply

  3. nebcanuck
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:44:23

    Stephen:

    Let’s hope you’re correct, and that the Canadian government stands up for itself if it was blindfolded!

    Random:

    I actually linked to the Wikipedia article in my post, when I wrote “the Omar Khadr case.” I could have gone into more detail as to the entire situation, but I figured those who were interested could look at the article! Apparently that’s what happened, although I guess you didn’t click it through my link!

    You’re right, of course, that it’s not cut-and-dry. And that a hand grenade is certainly as deadly in the hands of a minor as a major. However, it’s international custom not to imprison a minor for such an act; rather, they try to educate and reform them in general rather than throwing them in a jail, particularly one with as shady a reputation as Guantanamo. The primary reason for this is that a minor is considered more easily influenced… both by his parents, who seemingly thrust him into battle, and (hopefully) the people who would be attempting to reform him.

    However, if you do note, I didn’t abdicate him entirely on the basis of his age. What’s even more sickening in this case is that there’s no guarantee he was even the one who threw the grenade. Not only are they violating international customs to keep him imprisoned, but they’re doing it on little or no evidence that he is actually the one who committed the crime. I would be pretty upset to hear that an adult was being subjected to Guantanamo without due evidence, let alone a kid.

    As for the Canadian citizen thing, to argue that he connects with another nationality above and beyond Canada is a weak excuse for the government to do nothing. The job of a government is to serve its citizens equally. If you begin to pick qualms about who is more or less of a citizen, the government could arguably denounce anyone as soon as they were put into a sticky situation. So to say that the government should act skeptically because he happens to think highly of his other home is pretty weak footing, by me.

    Reply

  4. Random
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 18:19:12

    “I actually linked to the Wikipedia article in my post, when I wrote “the Omar Khadr case.” I could have gone into more detail as to the entire situation, but I figured those who were interested could look at the article! Apparently that’s what happened, although I guess you didn’t click it through my link!”

    Bah – my apologies! I thought your link was to the media report you were quoting so I didn’t click on it (I missed that that link was at the start of the quote). Serves me right for not checking…

    As for Guantanamo, he was caught in the middle of a fire fight after receiving severe wounds (and before we get onto any high horses about that, let us remember it was US army medics who saved his life in what, if the pictures are anything to go by, was a near miraculous piece of battlefield medicine), whether or not he threw that specific grenade was probably a detail, it is unlikely he was merely there as a tourist. And as for being a minor – maybe I’m being simplistic, but he’s either a kid or a mujahid, he really can’t be both at the same time.

    And as for the citizenship thing – the Canadian government could quite reasonably take the view that citizenship imposes obligations as well as rights, and one of the former is that if you decide – after 9/11 – that it’s a good idea to travel to Afghanistan and throw hand grenades at US troops you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with the aftermath. Canada is not at war with the USA and it’s citizens therefore are not entitled to the protection of their government if they choose to fight the US.

    Reply

  5. nebcanuck
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 23:21:11

    and before we get onto any high horses about that, let us remember it was US army medics who saved his life in what, if the pictures are anything to go by, was a near miraculous piece of battlefield medicine

    Point granted, although to argue that he should then be kept prisoner in a high-torture-risk area seems kind of contradictory. If we’re to praise the troops for saving him, it shouldn’t be in the light that they were going to make his renewed life one of dire pain.

    And as for being a minor – maybe I’m being simplistic, but he’s either a kid or a mujahid, he really can’t be both at the same time.

    I think it is kind of simplistic, in that he can be both influenced and dangerous at the same time. Yes, he was there as someone who is attacking US troops, and yet he still has a mind that can be reshaped. So too can an adult mind. But that’s where international convention comes in. The view is that, because children are much easier to shape, they should be given an opportunity to reform. Sure they’re dangerous; but the chance of them being rendered less so is considered much higher in light of their age.

    And as for the citizenship thing – the Canadian government could quite reasonably take the view that citizenship imposes obligations as well as rights

    I think that there are two kinds of rights. I agree that if someone decides to throw grenades at an ally, he should no longer be permitted to cash in on welfare. However, there are certain universal rights that apply, regardless of the status of the person. One of those sets of rights are criminal rights — a right to a fair, open trial, and, presumably, imprisonment free of torture. Assuming he is now regarded as a criminal of war, Khadr should be treated as one: brought back home, put to trial, and made to pay the crimes of killing a human being. He shouldn’t be held up in a hole where human rights are utterly disregarded. And, since he is a Canadian citizen, it is the government’s responsibility that those rights are granted, regardless of his status as a criminal.

    Reply

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