News  Canadian child soldier still in limbo

Omar Khadr remains in prison, despite Obama’s recent decision to close Guantanamo

In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay on January 20, experts and supporters are urging Canada to repatriate a Canadian child soldier who has spent six tortured years in the off-shore prison.

The U.S. army captured Omar Khadr when he was 15, accusing him of throwing the grenade that killed Sergeant Christopher Spheer in Afghanistan during a fire fight in July 2002. He has been charged with war crimes in military tribunals.

In Guantanamo, he was subjected to extreme temperatures, forced nudity, and sexual humiliation. Guards even attached him to short-range chains for hours until he urinated on himself. They then poured pine-scented cleaning fluid over him and used him as a mop.

Amnesty McGill directors Margoth Rico and Silvana Lovera protested with a handful of sympathizers at the Roddick Gates last Tuesday as part of their campaign to demand Khadr’s repatriation.

While access to a fair trial is a step in the right direction, Rico believed that justice can only be achieved once Khadr is allowed to return to Canada.

“We should not be asking ourselves ‘Why should Omar Khadr be repatriated?’ but ‘Why has he not been repatriated?’” Rico said. “By not taking responsibility of Omar Khadr, Canada is overlooking the rights that every Canadian citizen should be entitled to.”

Hours after accepting the presidency, Obama issued an executive order suspending all military trials, including Khadr’s, which was scheduled for January 26. Judith Rae, a University of Toronto law student and founding member of The Omar Khadr Project, an organization of Canadian law students and young lawyers advocating for Khadr’s repatriation, criticized the Harper government for shirking responsibility for Canada’s last remaining detainee.

“Stephen Harper’s continued silence is inexcusable. It has always been important to assist a Canadian citizen who is locked away facing an unfair trial abroad,” said Rae. “We know President Obama intends to end these illegal proceedings, which are contrary to the normal rules of human rights,” he said.

“The game is over. We would be happy to see Khadr face trial in Canada; there is no reason why he cannot be tried here.”

Lieutenant Commander Keubler, Khadr’s Pentagon-appointed attorney to the case, explained Khadr’s military trial has run out of steam.

“I think Omar’s military prosecution is effectively dead and that there are significant obstacles to any future prosecution of Omar Khadr by U.S. authorities,” said Keubler. “The ball is now squarely in the Prime Minister’s court to help President Obama clean up the Guantanamo mess by offering to take Omar back to Canada.”

Rae questioned the validity of the evidence held against Khadr.

“The U.S. altered documents dating from around the time of the incident which made reference to another person alive who could have thrown the grenade,” said Rae. “Furthermore, some of the evidence used against him is unreliable, including alleged admissions that date from the time he was subjected to serious mistreatment, quite possibly including torture.”

Canada is legally bound by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to rehabilitate minors like Omar Khadr and to reintegrate them into society.

Canada has widely supported rehabilitation programs for child soldiers from countries such Sierra Leone, Colombia, and Sri Lanka. Ishmael Beah, UNICEF Ambassador and former child soldier captured at age 15, called Canada’s treatment of Khadr a double standard.

“If a 15-year-old kid in Sierra Leone, in Congo, in Uganda, in Liberia, if they kill somebody and shoot somebody in the war, it’s fine, but as soon as that kid kills an American soldier…they are no longer a child soldier, they are a terrorist.”

It will be many months before Guantanamo is shut down and the files of the detainees facing military trial are reviewed. Having spent six and a half years in pre-trial detainment, many believe Khadr’s ordeal has already continued for far too long. With Obama and Harper due to meet in the coming weeks, the issue of Khadr’s return to Canada is more pressing than ever. Dennis Edney, Khadr’s Canadian attorney was disappointed with the public’s indifference to Khadr’s plight.

“Here we have a young boy who is blind in one eye, his other eye damaged, and we can’t even get him protective glasses. What are we doing for him as Canadians? What has McGill done?” Edney asked. “When we talk about Omar Khadr, we are talking about Guantanamo and the lack of rule of law in that hellish place. Where are the voices of outrage?”