Introduction by New Cold War.org, July 13, 2017:
On July 7, the government of Canada confirmed it had reached a $10.5 million financial settlement with Canadian citizen Omar Khadr for Canada’s complicity in Khadr’s mistreatment at the U.S. government torture center at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba. The settlement has provoked much opposition from right-wing voices in Canada, and the family of a U.S. soldier who Khadr was accused of killing in 2002 is seeking legal action in Canada to obtain the proceeds of the settlement.
Update: Ontario judge rejects attempt by U.S. family to freeze Omar Khadr’s financial assets, CBC News, July 13, 2017
Khadr was captured by the U.S. military in 2002 during a firefight in Afghanistan. He was 15 years old and there is no evidence he was engaged in combat. He was then abducted to Guantanamo Bay where he was imprisoned until a much-delayed repatriation to Canada in 2012. In October 2010, having endured various abuses in prison including sleep deprivation and in order to win a repatriation to Canada, he pleaded guilty to having killed one U.S. soldier and wounding another during the 2002 firefight. It was said by U.S. authorities he threw a grenade.
Khadr served out in Canada the ‘sentence’ he received at the hands of the illegal, U.S. miltary tribunals in Guantanamo Bay. He was released from Canadian prison in October 2015. He maintains his innocence from the U.S. ‘criminal charges’ against him.
A lengthy and detailed description of Omar Khadr’s story is here.
The ‘odious’ logic behind opposition to Omar Khadr’s compensation from the Canadian government
(And see below a follow-up Toronto Star column by the same writer on July 13: Outrage over Omar Khadr defies reason)
The news that Omar Khadr is receiving an apology and settlement from Canada has evoked predictable outrage, particularly from Conservative quarters. Khadr has been widely condemned as a “confessed terrorist,” and the settlement called “disgusting” (Andrew Scheer), “reprehensible” (former Stephen Harper adviser Jenni Byrne), “absolutely wrong” (Tony Clement), “offensive” (a Canadian Taxpayers Federation petition with more than 50,000 signatures), and “odious” (Jason Kenney).
It is “disgusting” that the “confession” critics refer to was extracted after eight years of illegal detention and torture, starting when Khadr was 15 years old. Instead of being rehabilitated after capture — as prescribed by international law on child soldiers — he was kept in prolonged solitary confinement, exposed to extreme cold and constant light, deprived of sleep, threatened with rape, shackled for hours in painful positions, and used as a human mop to clean the floor after being forced to urinate on himself.
It is “reprehensible” that the U.S. imprisoned Khadr and more than 700 other men at Guantanamo Bay, in a military camp built to lie outside the protections of both domestic and international law.
Detainees at Guantanamo were kept in what one British House of Lords judge called a “legal black hole:” a place where they could be held for years without charge and without access to lawyers (Khadr was deprived of legal counsel for more than two years); where they could be subjected to secret torture and secretive trials, in military commissions where the usual rules of justice didn’t apply (the prosecution could use “evidence” obtained through torture, for example); and where the U.S. claimed the authority to detain captives indefinitely, even if they were legally acquitted.
This was a “heads I win, tails you lose” setup “designed not to produce justice, but to secure convictions,” wrote University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin.
It is “absolutely wrong” that the U.S. re-wrote the laws of war at Guantanamo to retroactively criminalize its enemies: a laws of war of international law, which forbids prosecuting people for criminal offences invented after the fact. Khadr was charged as a war criminal for allegedly killing American soldier Christopher Speer — but killing an enemy soldier in combat is not a war crime. Under the international laws of armed conflict, soldiers can be killed because they are allowed to kill.
“The government asserts U.S. combatants had the right to shoot Khadr on sight (he was shot twice in the back […]), yet criminally prosecute him for fighting back,” observed professor of international law and former U.S. Navy officer David Glazier. “This approach […] attempts to transform the law from one even-handedly regulating the conduct of both parties into a unilateral shield for one side.”
Khadr was accorded all the vulnerabilities of being a soldier, but none of the privileges. As senior officials in the Obama administration pointed out at the time, if Omar Khadr could be convicted of war crimes for “murdering” Sgt. Speer, then so could the CIA for its drone operations in countries such as Pakistan. But this was victor’s justice, meted out only against the vanquished.
It is “offensive” that Canadian officials knew Khadr had been tortured in Guantanamo, and instead of helping him, took advantage of the situation to interrogate him multiple times.
Canada’s compensation to Khadr is not an act of largesse; the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly found that Canada violated Khadr’s rights, and the UN Convention Against Torture obliges states to provide recompense to victims of abuse. (The convention also requires states to prosecute officials complicit in torture, which Canada has so far failed to do.)
And it is “odious” that some ideologues are now using Khadr’s coerced confession to fabricate crimes in a sham legal process to insist he should have no redress for the severe crimes committed against him. This is not the logic of international justice, which gives protection to all, regardless of identity, but the logic of mob vengeance, which denies some their most basic rights by branding them “enemies” or “terrorists.”
Those determined to see Omar Khadr as an undeserving “terrorist” can’t pretend to be championing anything noble; the only thing they are defending is the power to use violence without constraint, and commit abuses without consequence.
Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst based in Toronto. She writes in the Star every other Thursday.
Outrage over Omar Khadr defies reason
How could so many Canadians protest the government’s apology and compensation to Omar Khadr, when the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that Canada violated some of his most fundamental rights?
The Supreme Court unanimously stated in 2008 that “by making the product of its [post-torture] interviews of Mr. Khadr available to U.S. authorities, Canada participated in a process that was contrary to Canada’s international human rights obligations.”
In 2010 it wrote that “the interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards.”
These rulings make monetary damages almost inevitable.
Canada’s complicity in the torture and unjust military trial of Khadr was indisputably and seriously illegal; Canadian courts only apply the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to state actions outside the country if they “violate Canada’s binding obligations under international law.”
Consider that 74 per cent of Canadians acknowledge Khadr was a child soldier and should have been treated as one — yet a majority would still have denied him redress for the abuses he experienced.
According to a poll by Angus Reid, 91 per cent of Conservatives, 61 per cent of Liberals, and 64 per cent of NDP voters are against the settlement; 43 per cent of Canadians wouldn’t even have apologized for Canada’s participation in his ordeal.
When it comes to Muslims branded as “terrorists,” the facts and the rule of law don’t seem to matter. The outraged reaction to Canada’s settlement agreement with Omar Khadr demonstrates, once again, that the demonization of Muslims is impervious to reason and reality.
How could a significant percentage of Canadians support Trump-like “Muslim bans” in the name of combating “terrorism,” when no one in Canada has ever been killed or seriously injured in an act of “terror” by a Muslim immigrant?
According to recent surveys, almost one-third of Canadians approve of Donald Trump’s prohibition on travellers from several Muslim-majority countries, more than half appreciate his approach to national security, and one-quarter think Syrian refugees should be forbidden from entering Canada.
Never mind that Muslims have been responsible for only two out of the 487 “terrorism”-related deaths in Canada recorded in the Canadian Incident Database since 1960; that both of these casualties from “Muslim terrorism” were caused by white men born in Canada (Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau); that extreme right-wing and white supremacist groups have murdered and assaulted several times more people than “Muslim terrorists” have; and that in the U.S., too, there have been no deadly “terror” attacks by immigrants from any of the countries targeted by Trump’s ban, while the radical right wing has been responsible for 73 per cent of fatal extremist incidents since 9-11 (as documented in a report released this April by the U.S. Government Accountability Office).
When it comes to Muslims, neither data nor logic nor our self-proclaimed “Canadian values” — pluralism, equality, humanitarianism — seem to matter.
How could so many Canadians oppose M103, a parliamentary motion to study and condemn Islamophobia, even after six Muslims were gunned down in an attack on a Quebec mosque?
Alexandre Bissonnette’s rampage at the Centre Culturel Islamique in Ste-Foy in January, which alone killed three times more people than “Muslim terrorism” ever has in Canada, occurred against a backdrop of steadily-rising animus: police-reported hate crimes against Muslims tripled between 2012 and 2015, according to Statistics Canada. And yet, 55 per cent of Canadians surveyed by Angus Reid in March claimed the problem of anti-Muslim discrimination has been “overblown,” and only 29 per cent said they would have voted for M103.
Following the killing of two soldiers in 2014 by Muslim extremists, in contrast, almost two-thirds of Canadians felt that “homegrown terrorism” poses a “serious threat,” and more than half endorsed the expansion of national security powers with the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act.
The introduction of increasingly repressive laws to counter statistically minuscule violence by Muslims is considered reasonable; a non-binding motion to counter more-fatal violence against Muslims is criticized as an overreaction.
When it comes to Muslims, their deaths don’t seem to matter.
Islamophobia — the unfounded fear, hatred, and dehumanization of Muslims — is often represented as the product of ignorance. But Islamophobia is more pernicious and resistant to correction than a mere absence of knowledge; it arises from a wilful refusal to recognize that Muslims deserve the same protections from being tortured, banned, and killed as other human beings.