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Omar Khadr: An enemy combatant or the victim of US war machine?

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr was born on the 19th of September 1986, in Toronto, Ontario. 16 years later he would begin his time at Guantanamo Bay, where he was held until 2012.

The time between these events is the story of a Canadian child placed in situations outside of his control, expected to pay the price of an adult capable of making their own decisions, abandoned by his government, and the man he became over his years in custody of the U.S. government.

Khadr was one of seven children. His early childhood was spent between his father’s native Pakistan and Canada. His father worked in Peshawar with charities helping Afghan refugees.

In 1992, his father stepped on a landmine and injured himself severely. The family returned to Canada, living in Toronto from 1992-95. Omar was enrolled at ISNA Elementary School for grade one.  After the family returned to Pakistan, Ahmed Khadr was accused of financially aiding the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in bombing the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. He was arrested and imprisoned, and released after a year.

In 1996, the Khadr family moved to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where Ahmed worked for an NGO. Post 9/11, fearing American retaliation, Maha (Omar’s mother) moved her children towards the Pakistani mountains. Soon after that, Omar left home to act as a translator for a group of Arabs.

On July 27th, 2002, he was the sole survivor of seven individuals that engaged in combat with American Military forces. During the engagement, Sgt Christopher Speer received severe head injuries from a grenade that was believed to have been thrown by Omar. Speer was helmetless and wearing Afghan dress. Omar was also seriously injured, shot twice in the back and maintaining shrapnel wounds to his chest and face. He was treated on the ground by American medics, and then airlifted to the American base at Bagram.

During Omar’s time at Bagram, various torture techniques were used on him despite his underage status. On the 20th of August Canada was informed of his capture. Diplomatic query by Canadian officials requesting consular access to their citizen was denied, accompanying a statement that Canada would be notified only if Canadian citizens were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Omar’s chief interrogator was Joshua Claus, who pleaded guilty to abusing detainees to extract confessions after killing a wrongly accused civilian later that year. On September 13th, the Canadian embassy sent a letter referencing “various laws of Canada and the United States” which required special treatment of Omar due to his age (16), and requesting that the United States not transfer Omar to Guantanamo.

Omar Khadr was transferred on the 28th of October, 2002, and arrived at Guantanamo Bay on October 29th or 30th, where he was considered to be an enemy combatant and held as an adult prisoner despite his age. At some point during Khadr’s incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, the Canadian government ceased to lobby for his release. Instead, Canadian intelligence officials were allowed to interrogate Khadr under the condition that they shared whatever information they gathered with the Americans, who were preparing to prosecute. In preparation for Canadian visits, Americans would put Khadr on the “frequent flyer program” (Globe and Mail, 2008), a sleep deprivation tactic which involved moving him from cell to cell every three hours for 21 days.

During Omar’s time at Bagram, various torture techniques were used on him despite his underage status. On the 20th of August Canada was informed of his capture. Diplomatic query by Canadian officials requesting consular access to their citizen was denied, accompanying a statement that Canada would be notified only if Canadian citizens were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
Khadr was interrogated by Canadians six times between 2003 and 2004. Canadian authorities called him a liar when he told them that he had been tortured into giving false confessions to the Americans. Later, Khadr stated that he had “tried to cooperate so that they would take me back to Canada”. (Toronto Star, 2008). The Canadian authorities told him it wasn’t something they could do.

Khadr would remain in Guantanamo Bay until 2012, and would be held without charges until 2005.

On the 7th of November, 2005, he would be formally charged with murder by "An Unprivileged Belligerent", attempted murder by "An Unprivileged Belligerent", aiding the enemy and conspiracy with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, Sayeed al Masri, Muhammed Atef, Saif al-Adel, Ahmed Khadr and “various other members of the al Qaida organization”.

These charges would be declared invalid when the newly instated Guantanamo military commissions were declared unconstitutional. When the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was signed in, new charges of Murder in Violation of the Law of War, Attempted Murder in Violation of the Law of War, Conspiracy, and Providing Material Support for Terrorism and Spying were sworn in. These charges did not exist in law before the Military Commission Act of 2006, and are not recognized as war crimes in international law.

In 2009, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Khadr’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated, and concluded that Canada had a “duty to protect” (Wikipedia, Omar Khadr) him. The Canadian government was ordered to request that the United States return Khadr to Canada as soon as possible. The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the decision in a 2-1 ruling. In 2010, The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the participation of Canadian officials in Khadr’s interrogations at Guantanamo bay had clearly violated his rights under the Charter, but did not order the government to seek Khadr’s return to Canada.

In 2010, Omar Khadr pled “guilty to the murder of Speer in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, [and] two counts of providing material support for terrorism and spying” (Wikipedia, Omar Khadr). His plea was made on the basis that he would eventually be allowed to transfer to Canadian custody, but it was stipulated that he would serve at least one more year in Guantanamo Bay before any transfer of custody to Canada was made.

In July of 2012, Romeo Dallaire would create a petition to ask Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to honour the plea bargain deal that was made in 2010. 35,000 Canadians would sign. In September of 2012, Khadr was transferred to Canadian custody, where his classification was gradually reduced from high security to low security. In 2013, while still imprisoned, Khadr filed a C$20 million civil suit against the government of Canada, alleging conspiracy with the U.S. in the abuse of his rights, and claiming that he had signed the murder plea because he had believed it was the only way he would get out of Guantanamo. He claimed that he had no memories of the altercation where he was wounded, and subsequently taken prisoner.

On May 7th of 2015, Khadr was freed on bail under conditions including electronic monitoring and living with and under the supervision of his lawyer, Dennis Edney. On July 4th of 2017, information was leaked by an unnamed source that the Canadian government would apologize and pay C$10.5 million to in compensation to Khadr. In a press conference held on July 7th, the settlement was confirmed and a formal apology was issued on behalf of the government by Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and the Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale.

“I try not to dwell on the past. It was either that or be engulfed in hate, misery—how bad life is. But that’s not going to get me anywhere. I try to think about things that will hopefully make my life and hopefully the life of people around me better.” – Omar Khadr, Out of the Shadows.

Sources:

Amnesty International: article

BBC: article 1, article 2, article 3

CBC: article, video

Canadian encyclopedia: article

The Globe and Mail: article

Huffington Post: article

Macleans: article

The Star: article 1, article 2, article 3, article 4, article 5, article 6

Wikipedia: article

Wikisource: article 1, article 2


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