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The Canadian state vs Omar Khadr


May 23, 2015

The Supreme court of Canada has ruled that Omar Khadr is a juvenile offender, meaning that all the protections usually reserved for young people must be followed in his case.

This was just the latest in a string of legal losses for the Harper government. They have done everything in their power to keep him behind bars and to deny his rights as both a child soldier and a Canadian citizen. They had also fought to stop him from being granted bail and lost that case on May 7.

Why have they gone to such lengths? For Harper, Khadr has become a symbol of the evils that have descended on the world. For him it is an ideological fight designed to whip up a frightened and angry base in the lead up to a federal election. The bogeyman of terrorism is a convenient distraction from scandal and a lagging economy.

Most importantly, however, is that they want to keep Khadr quiet because he can expose human rights abuses that the governments of Canada and the US are working so hard to conceal. Khadr is now working with his lawyers to have his forced confession overturned. The trial in that case would likely expose the bankruptcy of the military tribunal process in the US and Canadian complicity in torture. These would be unwelcome additions to the discussion of security and militarization in Canada.

The sham trial
The legal process to convict Khadr would not stand up to legal scrutiny in a civilian trial. The conflicting reports of the initial incident that had Khadr arrested are enough on their own to overturn a conviction.

Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a US Special Forces Medic in Eastern Afghanistan. It is argued that he was the only one alive within a walled compound at the time that the grenade was thrown which makes this an open and shut case.

The reality is that there are numerous eyewitness reports from the soldiers involved in the firefight that contradict the official testimony.  Soldiers have spoken publicly about the fact that there were numerous people alive in the compound where Khadr was found. Some have admitted to killing wounded Afghans after the fight—a clear war crime—but none have been prosecuted.

They also relate that at the time they were all throwing grenades that could have caused the injuries. Crucially, the medical experts for the defense have said that the injuries that caused the death of the medic were consistent with those from a US made grenade. Khadr was accused of throwing a Russian made grenade that had a very different wound pattern.

All of these facts and more were covered up. Instead, the prosecution would have us believe that Khadr, a 15 year old with three massive bullet wounds could somehow get a hold of an enemy grenade and—while lying on stomach and nearly unconscious—throw it at the US soldier.

Why then did he confess? The problem is that the trials at Guantanamo bay are not designed to get at the truth. They are designed to justify torture and war.

The torture and Canadian Complicity

Despite assurances from the US military brass that they did not use torture against Omar Khadr, the men who did the torturing have spoken out. One soldier, Damien Corsetti admitted to torture of Khadr, including frequent use of sleep deprivation for as long as three weeks, while at Guantanamo. 

That was not the worst of the abuse. Kahdr was tortured at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan by a notorious US interrogator Joshua Claus. Claus was later convicted of assault and prisoner maltreatment in a case where an innocent Afghan detainee was tortured to death.

Khadr told of being submitted to stress positions for hours, was hung from the ceiling while still suffering wounds to his chest and shoulders and was kept in a refrigerator like solitary confinement cell for a month.

It is now known that visits from Canadian officials were used to interrogate Khadr despite the fact that he had been tortured just prior to the interrogations.  In separate decisions rendered in 2007, 2008 and 2009 both the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada said that Canada had acted illegally in the case and had violated international law.

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Canada had violated Khadr’s charter rights.

Next Steps

Omar Kahdr is currently awaiting an appeal in the US for his conviction. He has stated that he only confessed to the killing to allow for him to be moved to Canada.

This is in keeping with the new modus operandi of terrorism cases. People who are accused of crimes are told that they may be kept in black hole prisons like Guantanamo for as long as the authorities wish. If they want any leniency they need to confess.

While that process continues, we should expect to see the Government of Canada continue to use the case to whip up fear and racism. For Khadr the ordeal isn’t over. For those who support peace and justice, his release is a victory but there is a long path to tread yet.

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