Friday, August 20, 2010

Omar Khadr and the Cowardice of Stephen Harper

At the end of each morning's radio show there is always at least one story that sticks with me -- one I covered that gets into my psyche and makes me wonder where the hell we are headed. This morning it was reviewing the story of Omar Khadr who is currently being tried by a US military commission. He is accused of throwing a grenade and killing a US soldier while under attack by US forces in Afghanistan. The fact that Harper has done nothing to protect the rights of a boy that was snatched off the battlefield at the age of 15 sickens and disheartens me. I know he'd do the same for any of us: nothing!



Back in January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada  ruled that the constitutional rights of the young man from Toronto, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, had been violated, but the same court turned down orders from lower Canadian courts to have the Conservative government of Stephen Harper request the return of Khadr to face justice in a Canadian court system. So given an excuse not to do the right thing, the Harper government was effusive in its' praise of the ruling: Canadian justice minister Rob Nicholson hailed the Supreme Court's ruling, reiterating his government's line that "Omar Khadr faces very serious charges including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying."

Complete nonsense! How can a minor be responsible for such actions? There is nothing more malleable than a 15 year old boy. The people around him may be guilty of coercion and abuse but he cannot be guilty of what he has been accused of -- he was a child when all this took place. There are international laws concerning child soldiers and there are good reasons for them to exist. Obama's administration is engaging in the first prosecutions for war-crimes by a minor since WWII. This is not a good precedent to set. This is not change from the Bush regime's course of actions either.

More to the point, Glenn Greenwald asks the question that I would love to ask of Stephen Harper, and has never been fully explored in the Canadian news media: how can it possibly be that the U.S. invades a foreign country, and then when people in that country -- such as Khadr -- fight back against the invading army, by attacking purely military targets via a purely military act (throwing a grenade at a solider, who was part of a unit ironically using an abandoned Soviet runway as its outpost), they become "war criminals," or even Terrorists, who must be shipped halfway around the world, systematically abused, repeatedly declared to be one of "the worst of the worst," and then held in a cage for almost a full decade (one third of his life and counting)?

The facts of the case need to be reiterated again and again until Canadians actually understand the circumstances of his capture, how he came to be there and what has been done to him during, what must be for him, eight very long years. Khadr, then 15 years old, was taken to Bagram near death, after being shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast. He was interrogated within hours, while sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher. He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn't cooperate with interrogators. He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator was later court-martialed for detainee abuse leading to the death of a detainee. On top of everything else, he was also subjected to severe sleep deprivation for a period of three weeks.

Now, the commission has already ruled that confessions made by Khadr which were clearly obtained through coercion, abuse and torture will be admitted as evidence against him. How can that be unless their desire is not to try him fairly bit merely to convict regardless of the evidence? Maher Arar who was held and tortured by the Americans for nine months, says that is the express purpose of the kangaroo court military commission: to convict.

So Stephen Harper has fought any and all attempts to repatriate a Canadian citizen and ignored the rights abuses that took place - does anyone doubt that he would do the same for any of us?

The trial has been suspended temporarily while defence lawyer Lt.-Col. Jon Jackson convalesces. Jackson, who had gall bladder surgery six weeks ago, was to be airlifted to a U.S. medical facility after collapsing in court.

UPDATE:

The military judge presiding over Omar Khadr's war-crimes case has ruled today that there is no credible evidence that he was tortured by his American captors or interrogators.

This flies in the face of testimony given by Khadr’s primary interrogator nicknamed "the monster" for the three months the teenager was detained at Bagram, before his transfer to Guantánamo in October 2002. Referred to only as “Interrogator One,” he said he interrogated Khadr about 20-25 times, more than anyone else, totaling about 50-100 hours of interrogation. He added that he first interrogated Khadr when the 15-year-old was sedated and lying handcuffed on a stretcher, about two weeks after he was brought to Bagram with multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds.


In 2005, Interrogator One pled guilty to prisoner abuse at Bagram, in connection with the death of a detainee two months after Khadr was transferred to Guantánamo. He was convicted of forcing a detainee to roll around on the ground and kiss interrogators' boots. He also pled guilty to twisting the bottom of a hood around another prisoner’s neck and forcing him to drink a bottle of water, causing him to gag and choke. He was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.

At the hearing for Khadr, ...Interrogator One replied, “I don’t specifically recall” to most of the defense’s questions about abuse he may have inflicted on Khadr.

Jennifer Turner of the ACLU, an observer to the testimony says of what she saw, ...that his (Interrogator number one) evasiveness and fading memory probably thwarted a full accounting of Khadr’s treatment at Bagram. So the chances of Omar Khadr receiving a fair trial have diminished even further. But that's okay with PM Harper,after all Khadr's a brown skinned Muslim and has a very unsympathetic family.