03 January 2008

Try Omar Khadr for what?

Five of Britain's top legal organizations are calling on the Canadian government to take "urgent action" to bring Omar Khadr, the young Canadian imprisoned in Guantanamo, home to Canada and afford him a fair trial. The groups accuse the Harper government of complicity in "breaches of fundamental international standards of conduct in relation to children." It is encouraging that these prestigious British legal organizations will defend this youngster's welfare when his own government won't; nonetheless, what exactly would they have Omar tried for?

Omar was captured after a battle against American forces in Afghanistan in 2002. Before succumbing to serious injuries, he threw a grenade that killed one GI and wounded others. The Americans have charged him with various offences, including murder.
Although he is clearly a prisoner of war, the U.S. has declared him an "unlawful combatant," a term invented to circumvent the Geneva Convention. The American hypocrisy is exemplified by their suggestion they will hold him indefinitely even if he is acquitted of the charges, claiming he is a prisoner of the war on terror and convention allows them to hold him until the war is over. It seems that under American justice, he is not prisoner of war if they can convict him, but he is a prisoner of war if they can't.

Furthermore, he is a child soldier and child soldiers are internationally recognized as victims, not perpetrators, and offered rehabilitation, not imprisonment. The United States itself recognizes this, and is bound by it as a signatory of
the United Nations Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, which states that people under 18 who are enlisted or conscripted into armed conflict are not adults and therefore “are entitled to special protection.”

Considering that Omar was indoctrinated from birth by fanatical parents
, who raised him to believe that religious martyrdom was the highest achievement he could aspire to, and sent to Afghanistan by his father, he would seem to be a classical example of what protection for child soldiers is all about. All he was guilty of doing was what good boys are supposed to do: honour and obey their parents.

Justice demands that Omar be released immediately, compensated for the appalling brutality he has endured at the hands of the Americans, returned to Canada and offered the medical
care he undoubtedly requires to minimize long-term psychological damage. If our government demands anything less they are betraying their responsibility to a young and vulnerable Canadian, a victim of first his parents and then the U.S. military.

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