BY DEBBIE MENON
Come August, a military commission in Guantánamo will try Omar Khadr, a Canadian national captured outside Kabul in 2002. He was a boy, aged 15 then. Now a burly, bearded 23-year-old who has spent one-third of his life at Guantanamo. He bears scant resemblance to the fresh-faced, teen, who had survived multiple gunshots wounds and several major surgeries. There must be some reason why this lad did not die from his wounds. A shotgun blast to the back with sufficient force to exit the chest is a pretty fatal event. Perhaps the Power that kept him alive this long will reveal His purpose in time.
He was in Afghanistan because his parents took him there. He was in a building that US commandos suddenly attacked. When people in the building shot back, they bombed the building and blew it to bits. Then they approached the building, and a US soldier got killed by a hand grenade thrown from the ruins of the building. When they entered the ruins Omar Khadr was still alive; but others were too. In a revised report, they made him the only one left alive. He has been charged with murder. He was shot at close range by bullets (plural).
The case against him is insane for several reasons:
a. He was a child soldier, which means he is a victim of war not a war criminal
b. Evidence was changed to make him the only person by inference who might have thrown a hand grenade. There is no witness that he did.
c. Soldiers killed while attacking a house in a foreign country cannot be victims of murder. They are casualties of war.
d. People in a house being attacked by foreigners are engaged in self-defense.
The US has made a category that a person is not a soldier and is not a civilian: “unlawful enemy combatant.” So laws of war and POW treatment do not apply and criminal laws also do not apply.
There is not much evidence against him and there is lack of jurisdiction in the US law related to “child soldiers”.
The only reason he is still in Guantanamo Bay is because the government is afraid they have turned him into a radical. But, he is young and can be rehabilitated. Everyone, even the Canadian officials who came to console him, have done nothing and he continues to languish in prison. Omar is probably the greatest shame on Canada, because two governments, the Liberals under Paul Martin and the Conservatives under Harper have both made the overt decision to leave him in prison.
A young girl named Zainab, wrote to me in October 2008, asking: “Who cares for this boy?”
It is not that no one cares… Zainab cares… I care… there are probably others, even his captors, who may care. The problem is, none of us who care are in any position or hold any power to do anything for him. We are not even voters in America and do not even have the stilled voice of constituency, or a representative to write to, which would be futile anyway.
The editors are not interested in him because this is not the kind of story which sells time and space in the mainstream corporate media. And, no one else is paid to care!
Omar has been tortured in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo. He is just a number (Detainee No. 257) to his persecutors, and it is next to impossible for him to expect a “fair” trial. He is used, and exploited to prove some vague and unimportant point or another, that there is a “War Against Terrorism” going on, and he is the “face of the enemy.”
Omar Khadr was questioned by a Canadian spy and foreign affairs official in February 2003. Khadr’s lawyers released an edited portion of the video on July 15, 2008.
Yes, they have destroyed his soul. It is more than likely that they simply consider that they have a problem, and the longer they have kept him the more difficult it has become to release him. Do not expect much in the way of Justice or sympathetic understanding from the US Military minds in Guantanamo.
Think of the “Missing in Action POWs” whom US presidential candidate John McCain and his government left behind in Vietnam. The longer they denied their existence, the harder it became to bring them back in from the cold and, eventually, they had to write them off because it would have been too embarrassing to save them. This is what is happening in Gitmo. This is the reality of the world we live in.
The boy has no chance. Unless some colonel, general, or someone with sufficient authority, if even for a moment, should step in, risk his neck, and sign a paper which gets the boy free long enough for him to make it back home to cover. This is extremely unlikely!
The medic, deployed to Bagram prison, said he knew Omar Khadr well because he changed the dressings on Khadr’s multiple bullet wounds twice daily and treated his shrapnel-infested eyes that left him nearly blind. He said Khadr, who spoke English, Arabic, Pashtu and some Farsi, was routinely used as an unofficial translator at the prison.
The Army which destroyed his soul consists of a few hundred thousand others whose souls have also and already been destroyed. He is just another one of many for whom the “coalition of the willing” in Afghanistan and Iraq are going to have to answer, someday.
Wars produce even worse things and casualties. He is one of them. What is the current dead, maimed, and homeless count this morning in Iraq? 1,366,350! and counting. Who cares about them? How many coalition troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? 4,730 and 1,907 , Who cares about them? It has been 8 years and counting. Do not expect the Americans to care. They are deprived of these hard truths and facts about the Middle East wars. Prayers may help…I’m not sure.
There is a principle in Law and moral justice that, if you do not have sufficient evidence to convict a man of that which you charge him, you do not have evidence to support his arrest or imprisonment.
After all, the only present legal authority for holding these men as Terrorists, or Threats to US Security, is an arbitrary Presidential declaration, made under questionable legislation promoted by the George Bush’s cabal. Such arbitrary charges and convictions are definitely unconstitutional, and Obama is a Constitutional scholar of principle.
Obama is in a position where there is little he can do in this case except to call the Canadian PM and tell him, “We have one of your people here, and I am putting him on the 2:00pm Montrealler. He will be arriving at Central Station at 4:00pm on track 7. Have someone there to pick him up and give him a ride home.”
Realistically, Obama needs to score a few points with his American constituency to whom he made a lot of implied promises which they are waiting to see materialize. Closing Gitmo was just one of them. This will be the basis of his decision.
Which way he will swing on the Khadr case depends on what and how his advisors assess the outcome of either decision on his constituency, and his credibility ratings at home. If “America ” will buy the Khadr child victim story, which I doubt, then he will be sent home and freed. If it is judged that he will look “soft” on terrorists, Khadr will not be freed.
Whichever way the decision goes, Law, Justice, and compassion will have small voices in it, and political points will be the big counter.
A version of this article was published in several publications, in October 2008.
“Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr-1/2
“Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr-2/2
“Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr”A US military judge dismissed the argument Friday that Guantanamo’s youngest detainee, Omar Khadr, was a child soldier when captured in Afghanistan and therefore in need of protection and not prosecution. US Army Colonel Peter Brownback’s ruling clears the way for Khadr’s trial, which will be the first war crimes trial in history of anyone under the age of eighteen. [includes rush transcript]
Debbie Menon is a Dubai-based freelance writer. Her articles have been published in several print and online publications. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit her web page at: My Catbird Seat