By Craig McKee
Few things make me angry faster than talking about the case of Omar Khadr.
In the irrational aftermath of 9/11, freedom, due process, and the rule of law were casualties of a phony war on terror. While the real terrorists occupied seats of power in Washington, individual freedoms were discarded. And this happened while the American public was still traumatized by the unprecedented “terrorist” attacks.
So they could appear to be doing something about 9/11, the U.S. government rushed to apprehend hundreds of terror suspects from around the world. Just nine months after the destruction of the World Trade Center, a 15-year-old Canadian boy named Omar Khadr was arrested and blamed for the death of an American serviceman in Afghanistan. He remains the only Western inmate left in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
The fact that Khadr is now discussing a deal that would have him plead guilty to murder is sickening. Part of the deal would be that he could serve the bulk of his sentence in Canada. I understand his desire to get back to Canada, but I believe he is innocent and should not be coerced into admitting to something he hasn’t done.
What makes me even angrier is that the Canadian government, led by the morally hollow Stephen Harper, has been utterly complicit in this travesty of justice. Harper is clearly in bed with the Americans on this. He shows more loyalty to his reactionary buddies in Washington than he does to the citizens who elected him.
Perhaps the fact that Canada just lost a vote to Portugal for a seat on the UN Security Council should be a tip-off to our prime minister that the world is starting to forget Canada’s sterling reputation for fairness and human rights. I’m not saying that reputation was entirely deserved before, but the respect the world had for us before is fading fast.
Despite ample evidence that the judicial process in Guantanamo Bay has been a sham from the beginning, and that crucial evidence contradicting the military’s version of events was deliberately withheld from the defense, Harper continues to say he won’t interfere with the “legal process” currently underway.
Here’s what happened: according to the documentary The U.S. vs. Omar Khadr, American forces had heard about suspicious activity in a compound near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. They sent two interpreters towards the compound, but they were gunned down. This started a firefight that lasted several hours.
The Americans then called in air support, and Apache helicopters raked the compound with machine gun fire and missiles. Two F-18 fighters dropped everything they had on the compound, including four 500-pound bombs.
Soldiers entered the ruined compound, but were met with more gunfire. In the exchange, a grenade was lobbed from the back of the compound to where the soldiers were. Sgt. Christopher Speer was fatally wounded.
Soldiers initially claimed that Khadr was the only one alive in the compound, so he must have been the one who threw the grenade. This has proven to be false. In an account by the soldier who shot Khadr, released to the defense by mistake, there was another person moving who had an AK-47 next to him. The soldier shot him in the head and killed him. Khadr was sitting up with his back to the soldier, who shot him twice in the back. The soldier’s statement was withheld from the defense as the U.S. military tried to hide the fact that the other person in the building was still alive when soldiers entered. That alone would have provided reasonable doubt of Khadr’s guilt.
Khadr was seriously wounded in the assault, having been partially blinded by shrapnel from the earlier attack, and it’s unlikely he would have been in a position to lob a grenade.
Since he was arrested, Khadr has been tortured, coerced with suggestions of gang rape, denied counsel, held for two years before being charged and eight years before going to trial, and abandoned by his native country of Canada. George Bush “didn’t care that much” about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after 9/11, but he had no trouble railroading and torturing a child.
I don’t care what the American military calls Omar Khadr, I call him a political prisoner. And he has been one since he was 15 years old. Yes, I know his father was known to be an active Al-Qaeda collaborator. And I know the family has a very bad reputation with the public, but that’s not Omar’s fault. He couldn’t choose his family.
This disgusting episode in American (and Canadian) history has gone on long enough. Just let him go.