30 May 2007

The catch-22 of Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr is the young Canadian who was captured by the Americans in their war in Afghanistan. He fought heroically. The last survivor of a five-hour battle, he was subdued only after being seriously wounded (he is now blind in one eye). Before succumbing to his injuries, he threw a grenade that killed one GI and wounded others.

Omar can hardly be blamed for his actions. He was only fifteen at the time, a victim of brain-washing
in extremist Islam since his birth. He was sent to Afghanistan by his father. And he was, after all, fighting in a war. Nonetheless, the Americans intend to try him for murder.

But how, you might well ask, can he be tried for murder for killing an enemy soldier during a war? Well, the Americans answer, he isn't a prisoner of war, he is an "unlawful combatant," a term invented by the U.S. administration to circumvent the Geneva Convention.

Now, the Americans have declared that if he is acquitted of the charges, they can hold him indefinitely anyway. Why? Well, they say because the war on terror isn't over and convention allows them to hold captives until a war ends. But if he was captured in a war on terror (their words), and he is held indefinitely because the war continues, mustn't he be by definition a prisoner of war?

So this is Omar's predicament. He can be tried for murder because he isn't a prisoner of war. If he's convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. But if he's acquitted, he can still be imprisoned indefinitely because he is a prisoner of war. Catch-22.

How sad that Joseph Heller isn't still with us. He would have appreciated yet another example of his famous phrase in action.


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