In 2011, Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to several charges including murder, attempted murder, and providing material support for the enemy. Although the charges against Omar tend to elicit emotional responses, the facts of his case are complicated and disconcerting.
Does a guilty plea mean the accused is guilty?
THE PLEA DEAL
By entering a plea deal, Khadr was able to secure his repatriation to Canada. Khadr spent almost a decade in the illegal Guantánamo Bay prison.
- Inadvertent government leaks prove that it is very unlikely that Khadr threw the grenade that fatally wounded U.S. soldier Christopher Speer. The report that named Khadr originally named another survivor of the U.S. airstrike who was later killed on the battlefield. The report was altered several months after it was submitted.
- Photographic evidence published by the Toronto Star in 2009 further proved that it would have been impossible for Khadr to have thrown the grenade.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
- Khadr was not found guilty in a court of law. He was designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” and was tried for war crimes created by the U.S. Military Commissions Act in 2006. Khadr could not be tried in an American, Canadian, or international court of law because the charges, designation (“unlawful enemy combatant”), and procedures employed at the military tribunals are not legal according to any of these bodies.
- The U.S. Military Commissions permit the use of coerced statements, have rendered new types of conduct criminal for the first time, and do not meet the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Canada is signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to this convention, Khadr, who was 15 at the time of his capture, was a child soldier. This means that his trial was prohibited under international law; Khadr should have been rehabilitated as a victim, not prosecuted as a perpetrator. Senator Roméo Dallaire has been a staunch advocate for Khadr on this point.
Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is signatory to international conventions that condemn human rights abuses and protect the lives of child soldiers. These are the documents which give Canada its identity.
WHAT DOES OMAR KHADR WANT?
When Khadr was visited by Canadian consular officials at Guantánamo Bay, he expressed the desire to improve his health, get an education, have a family, and to find a job where he could help people in need.
Although he was denied educational opportunities while at Guantánamo Bay, Khadr’s lawyer smuggled in lesson plans from an English professor who teaches at a Christian College in Edmonton. As a dedicated student, Khadr read and wrote reports on works by Charles Dickens, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama. He also read John Grisham books and the Twilight series. Khadr is now 26 years old and only has a Grade 8 education.
Khadr is currently being held in a special security unit in Millhaven prison in Ontario. He is eligible for a parole hearing in July. Khadr’s lawyers are preparing to file an appeal to overturn the military tribunal convictions with the U.S. Court of Appeals. The crimes for which Khadr was convicted did not exist when he was charged, nor do they exist in international law today.
KHADR, TOEWS, AND THE MEDIA
The warden at Millhaven prison recently granted members of the Canadian media permission to interview Khadr. In a highly unorthodox move, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews overruled the warden’s decision. By not allowing Khadr to speak with the media, the government continues to control the messaging around Khadr’s identity.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
- Watch the documentary You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo. Currently available in its entirety on YouTube, the documentary includes extended footage of Canadian officials interrogating Khadr. It also includes interviews with Canadian officials, psychiatrists specializing in torture, and former Guantánamo detainees and interrogators.
Read Roméo Dallaire’s They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children: The Global Quest to Eradicate the Use of Child Soldiers, available at Regina Public Library.
Contact Public Safety Ministers Vic Toews, letting him know that the unorthodox move to prevent the Canadian media from interviewing Khadr is unacceptable: 613-992-3128 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Send the same message to your MP.