Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and a former child soldier, has spent the last eight years of his life in Guantánamo Bay detention camps. This week, he pled guilty to five charges – including the murder of U.S. Army medic Christopher Sheer – in front of a military commission. He may have to serve up to eight more years, but as part of the plea bargain he is spared a life sentence.
Khadr is now 24. Brought to Afghanistan by his parents in 1988, he was 15 when captured by U.S. troops in 2002 in Afghanistan for throwing a hand grenade. The prolongation of his trials is clearly the product of circumstances far beyond his control, including the election of Barack Obama, which caused bureaucratic delays in his case. For its part, the Canadian government has consistently refused to repatriate Khadr, the last westerner at Guantánamo. Harper has gone as far as the Supreme Court to challenge lower court decisions demanding Khadr’s repatriation.
Though the Supreme Court did not order Harper to bring Khadr home, it did slam officials for their complicity in torture by Khadr’s interrogators. He has been subject to sexual humiliation, forced nudity, extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation. His formative years have been spent in detention with other accused terrorists, tortured by his interrogators, abandoned by his own government.
Whether Khadr is guilty or not, his trial breaches international law. As a minor at the time of his crime, he is a child soldier. Child soldiers do not deserve the torture and malicious neglect Khadr has received from the U.S. and Canada: they deserve rehabilitation and a home. While supporting rehabilitation programs for child soldiers from Sierra Leone, Colombia, and Sri Lanka, Canada refuses to take custody of one of its own citizens. Harper’s stalling for so long when human dignity is at stake is hypocritical, criminal, and brings shame on this country.