Andy Worthington Discusses Omar Khadr’s Depressing Plea Deal on Antiwar Radio


On Monday, after former child prisoner Omar Khadr accepted a plea deal at Guantánamo, nodding his assent to a vast list of crimes (PDF), including membership of al-Qaeda and the “illegal” killing of a US Special Forces soldier, I responded to an urgent request for an interview and spoke to my old friend Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio. The ten-minute interview is here (and here as an MP3), and in it I ran through the many reasons why the outcome is particularly distressing from the point of view of anyone concerned with justice, due process and the need to demolish the brutal worldview established by the Bush administration, whose senior officials believed that it was acceptable to torture children, and to put them forward for war crimes trials on charges invented by Congress.

The first is because these odious policies have now been demonstrably maintained by President Obama, on whose watch this wretched plea deal took place. As a result, a Democratic President — and one who criticized the Bush administration’s crimes while in opposition — has presided over the first conviction of a former child prisoner in a supposedly civilized country since the Second World War, when all along, according to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was ratified by the US in December 2002, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished.

The second is because, as I explained in two articles following the plea deal, and as lawyers with actual knowledge of the law have explained, the “war crimes” to which Khadr confessed are not war crimes at all, and were only invented by Congress in 2006, and maintained when Obama revived the Commissions last year. Of particular concern to me are Khadr’s consent to claims that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent” — who did not have “any legal basis to commit any war-like acts,” and who was essentially unable to fight back against US forces, because he would be a terrrorist if he did so — and the allied claim that he was “guilty of violating the law of war,” if he did indeed throw the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer, because killing a US soldier in wartime is only a war crime in the bleak and horrendously one-sided fantasy world of the Military Commissions.

It is, to put it bluntly, sickening that, over nine years after the “War on Terror” began, the Obama adminstration is defending the right of the United States to conclude that certain individuals have no rights whatseover — if not as “detainees,” then as combatants in a war zone, as this is exactly the sort of twisted argument used by the Bush administration to hold men and boys without rights and to pretend that they had been by-passed completely by the Geneva Conventions, when in fact anyone captured in wartime must be given the minimum baseline protections of Common Article 3. Pretending that certain types of combatants have no rights — and are “enemy combatants,” or, in Obama’s words, “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” — is exactly the mindset that led to the vile conclusion that prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” could be tortured and abused, and were, essentially, something less than human.

The third problem concerns the truth — or lack of it — in the list of crimes which Khadr accepted as the key part of his plea deal, which may or may not be true. Right-wingers are over the moon, shouting, “Al-Qaeda!” and “terrorist” from the rooftops, whereas the truth is, of course, almost impossible to discern. Faced with the prospect of losing a trial, Khadr obviously concluded that the plea deal was the only way to avoid a possible life sentence, in a barbaric system that didn’t care whether he was responsible for whatever actions he may or may not have committed at the age of 15, under the malign influence of his father. As a result, he agreed to all the charges against him, but no one, it seems to me, can state with absolutely certainly that they know what is true and what is not.

Instead, all we can be sure of is that Khadr’s plea deal provides him with some sort of escape route, and provides the US government with the ability to claim some sort of twisted justification for its actions over the last eight years, disguising the fact that it involved the arbitrary detention of a juvenile in an experimental prison established to pursue the coercive interrogation of men and boys without any rights whatsoever.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Connie says...

    The question begs an answer continually… who is hiding what from the US and world public?

    In keeping with the above tragedies is this ongoing lack of transparency and twisted use of “statements” by so called terrorists – even when they were illegally detained for many reasons – including child soldiers…and kept in prison by the current US administration one way or the other.

    Thanx for your ongoing consistency and absolutely essential work. Americans have no idea what a treasure of truth you offer here and in your talks/book/etc.

  2. Tweets that mention Andy Worthington Discusses Omar Khadr’s Depressing Plea Deal on Antiwar Radio | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Dave Parker. Dave Parker said: Andy Worthington Discusses Omar Khadr’s Depressing Plea Deal on Antiwar Radio | Andy Worthington […]

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Connie. Good to hear from you.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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