27 September 2013

Why has Canada failed Omar Khadr?

The first responsibility of the state is to protect its citizens, particularly its children. The Canadian state has utterly failed that responsibility in the case of Omar Khadr.

Omar was the classic child soldier, formally identified as such by the head of the United Nations child soldier program. Indoctrinated in an extreme philosophy from birth, at the age of fourteen his family placed him in the hands of fundamentalist fighters in Afghanistan. He was completely dependent on them, not merely for his room and board but for the very thoughts in his head. He did the only thing he could, he fought alongside the men he had been taught to believe were heroes in the defence of the one true religion. He was captured by the Americans after a firefight, interrogated, imprisoned, cruelly abused and finally put on trial for murder and other crimes.
He is the only minor convicted of war crimes in modern history—and the Canadian government allowed it to happen. It rejected pleas by Amnesty International, UNICEF, the Canadian Bar Association and other prominent organizations to repatriate or extradite him.

In 2010, he pled guilty at a military tribunal in the infamous Guantanamo prison. As part of the plea deal he was repatriated to Canada in 2012 to serve the remaining six years of his sentence and earlier this year was transferred to the maximum security Edmonton Institution.

When his lawyer appealed before the court this week to have him transferred to a minimum security prison where he would have access to the rehabilitation programs he needs to apply for parole and to prepare for his re-entry into society, Prime Minister Harper stated his government would "vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment." Our government has not yet, it seems, extracted its pound of flesh.

Civilized nations do not punish child soldiers, or allow other nations to punish them. We have done both, and worse. We have allowed him to be more than punished, to be cruelly abused, to be incarcerated and to be subjected to a drumhead trial.

You can often tell the character of a nation by how it treats a single citizen. Canada's character has been dishonoured by this case. It has revealed the dark, vindictive side of our nature and of the government that leads us. It is a tragedy not only for Omar Khadr.

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