Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Omar Khadr: Scapegoat for Canada’s War in Afghanistan

by Justin Panos
Basics #11 (November 2008)

October 28 of this year marks Omar Khadr’s sixth year as a detainee of America’s concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detention centre is declared by the United States to be sovereign US territory (even though it is part of mainland Cuba).

Khadr, a Canadian citizen born in Toronto, was captured in a skirmish between Afghan civilians and US soldiers in an Afghan village in July 2002. It is claimed that Khadr threw a grenade that killed a US soldier. Khadr was found huddled in terror by the armed soldiers and was promptly shot twice in the back. Omar, now 21, is the youngest detainee at the highly securitized and secretive prison establishment. He has been there since he was 15 years old and has neither been charged with a crime nor faced a judge or jury of his peers.

The Canadian government expresses their international solidarity with the US government’s war crimes and disregard for international laws and conventions that both countries worked together to legislate after World War II in response to the Nazi onslaught of Europe.
As Human Rights Watch points out in their 2007 report “The Omar Khadr Case: A Teenager Imprisoned at Guantanamo”, “both U.S. and international law requires governments to provide children (persons under the age of 18) with special safeguards and care, including legal protections appropriate to their age.”

There have been widespread reports of torture and ill treatment towards Khadr as well as many other detainees in the facility. Many have begun to question if the confessions that have been obtained by U.S. officials at Guantanamo can be taken seriously when so many of its detainees are subject to various forms of torture.

One report documents one of Khadr’s days at the jail: “At Guantanamo, Khadr was beaten; drugged; ridiculed; subjected to sleep deprivation; subjected to solitary confinement and sensory deprivation; choked repeatedly to the point of passing out; force-fed and beaten after he participated in a detainee hunger strike; and, in one oft-cited incident, denied the use of a bathroom until he lost control of his bladder and was used as a “human mop” to clean up the puddle of urine, then refused a change of clothes for two days.”

An expose by Rolling Stone magazine points towards the psychological effects that Khadr’s rendition and subsequent torture have left him with: “He cried frequently. [ . . . ] His appetite diminished; he took on the appearance of the permanently malnourished. He entered what clinicians call a state of hyper vigilance: He started thinking he might be attacked at any time - without reason, his heart rate would jump, and he would sweat and hyperventilate. He began hearing sounds - screams, bombs, things he could not identify - when the cellblock was silent.”
Khadr’s case, however, is not unique in that Canada falsely surveilled, detained, and transferred another innocent civilian to the United States without questioning the U.S.’s terrible human rights policies. Maher Arar was tortured for one year in Syria after being transferred there by the United States and Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shown callous disregard for the safety of this man, the rights of Canadian children in international disputes, and an altogether hostile and demonizing attitude towards Muslim peoples in Canada.

On July 15th, Kory Teneycke, the prime minister’s director of communications, told CBC News that “Mr. Khadr faces serious charges. There is a judicial process underway to determine Mr. Khadr’s fate. This should continue.”

This statement was delivered despite the growing evidence of torture, the lack of due process, and denial of fundamental rights that most would be led to believe that children possess.

In 2007, a Federal judge ruled that Canada has violated numerous doctrines of international law by withholding documents about Khadr’s captivity that might prove his innocence. The refusal to release the documents on the grounds of ‘national security’ have been called by some as ‘embarrassing’ as well as ‘illegal’.

Recently, the widow of the dead US soldier won $94 million in a civil suit against the estate of Khadr’s father. It was said that Khadr’s action was an act of terrorism and not an act of war. American law does not allow civil suits against acts of war and the lawsuit was the first of its kind against an act of terrorism. This has raised numerous ethical and judicial questions about the definition of terrorism. How has Khadr been sued for terrorism but not found guilty of such a crime?

Is it not a morally repulsive irony that thousands of Afghanis are being bombed and terrorized by Canadians forces, indiscriminately killed in the thousands, and Omar Khadr is sued for $94 million for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? The injustice of the Omar Khadr case is proving to be a very useful way to try to convince Canadians that some of their citizens are terrorists – born right here in Toronto! – and thus that the occupation of foreign lands and wars against foreign peoples are justified. Justice for Omar Khadr would be a serious blow to Canada’s pro-war propaganda offensive and would thus be a step in the direction of justice for all victims of Canada’s role in the “War on Terror”, be they Afghani citizens, Canadian soldiers coming back in body bags, or working-class Canadians who are paying for these wars from which only the rich are benefiting.
Justice for Omar Khadr now!