The U.S. court will soon decide whether a Canadian boy is an enemy combatant guilty of war crimes. Or was he a victim of adult coercion – – a child soldier?
Contradictions swirl about and the events that happened in 2002 when Omar Khadr was only15 years old but it seems by all reasonable accounts that he is innocent.
But for a moment, let’s assume the charges are true; that Khadr murdered a U.S. soldier on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
How could one soldier be convicted of murdering another when killing each other is what soldiers are expected to do, and they may be punished if they don’t? That seems to be a problem admits John Bellinger, a legal advisor for the U.S. state department. “In a normal war, where both sides have the right to engage in combat with one another, if a soldier kills a soldier on the other side, it’s not murder.”
But, says Bellinger, Khadr’s case is different because he was a member of a terrorist group and it’s illegal for them to engage in war. Under U.S. law it’s illegal for al-Qaeda or the Taliban to even defend themselves. How convenient. The U.S. enacted a law that prohibits soldiers in Afghanistan from defending themselves against invasion; an invasion that itself was illegal under international law since Afghanistan had neither threatened attack nor declared war on the U.S. And the law makes members of that group guilty of war crimes.
It gets more bizarre. The law making al-Qaeda and the Taliban soldiers into enemy combatants was enacted after Khadr’s alleged deed. Even in the unlikely event that the 15-year-old Omar knew the subtle nuances and protocols of military engagement, he could not have known that the actions of that day would be illegal under a future law.
Bizarre law aside, even the facts are in doubt. The U.S. military claims that Omar threw a grenade at a U.S. soldier, killing him. Now an eye-witness paints a different picture; the teenager was in the company of an adult who threw the grenade. Khadr was down on his knees facing away from battle when a U.S. soldier shot him twice in the back. Let me see if I’ve got the charges straight: a U.S. soldier legally shot a combatant in the back while the combatant illegally defended himself while unarmed and down on his knees?
The tortured path that brought Omar Khadr to the battlefield was a similar path taken by the world’s child soldiers except that usually children are forcibly taken from their parents and taught how to kill. In Khadr’s case, his family groomed him for war.
A strong case can be made that Omar was brainwashed by his family into thinking that he had no other choice. From age 11, Omar’s tutorage into the world of terror started with trips to Afghanistan. It’s a family tradition. One of his bothers became suicide bomber, another paralyzed in a battle in which his father was killed. His mother and sister praised the glories of terrorism on national television. Writer Sean Fine says: “Only an extraordinary 15-year-old could have withstood that grooming process (Globe and Mail, March 22)”.
The silence of the Canadian government has been deafening. Other countries have repatriated citizens held as combatants at Guantanamo Bay, several in the case of Britain, but not Canada. The only “help” that the Canadian government has provided is to send intelligence officers to interrogate Omar without counsel, and pass the information on the U.S. in order to strengthen their case.
With help like that, it makes me wonder that if I were arrested under false charges in a foreign country I would be better off not asking for assistance from my government. Kadar’s lawyers rightfully claim that these interrogations without counsel are illegal. They recently and went to Canada’s Supreme Court to obtain the results of that interrogation but have been stonewalled by the Canadian government which steadfastly stands behind the U.S. military even in the face of evidence pointing to injustice of a Canadian citizen in U.S. courts.
Instead of being complicit in the U.S. prosecution of a juvenile in what appears to an inevitable miscarriage of justice, why doesn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper do the right thing and bring Kadar home?
Harper seems confident that Khadr will get a fair trial in the U.S. I’m not so sure.