I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
Frustrated that Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, is still detained, eight months after he was supposed to be returned to Canada under the terms of a plea deal negotiated in October 2010, his US and Canadian lawyers — and the Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire — held a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday to demand that the Canadian government honors its part of the agreement and secures Khadr’s return to Canada, the country of his birth.
Khadr was seized in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan where he had been taken by his father, Ahmed Khadr, who is generally described as a fundraiser for Osama bin Laden. At the time of his capture he was just 15 years old, and should have been rehabilitated, under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories.
Instead, however, he was horribly abused in US custody, and abandoned by the Canadian government. In October 2010, under the terms of the plea deal, he accepted that he had killed US Special Forces soldier Sgt. Christopher Speer, who died in a grenade attack during the firefight, and that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who had no right to engage in combat with US forces at all, even though there is serious doubt about the claim that he threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, and even though his confession effectively established a scenario in which the US claimed that it was illegal to raise arms against US forces in a war zone.
Nevertheless, in exchange for his confession, Khadr was assured that he would serve an eight-year sentence, and would be returned to Canada after the first year of that sentence was served in Guantánamo.
That is the agreement that has not been honored by the Canadian government, and that led Khadr’s lawyers, and Senator Dallaire, to complain publicly on Thursday.
John Norris, one of his Canadian civilian lawyers (along with Brydie Bethell), told the press conference, as CBC News described it, “The Canadian government has consistently failed to live up to its obligations to Omar Khadr. While Omar, a child, was trapped in a place that has been condemned around the world, the Canadian government stood idly by and said simply, ‘We will let the process run its course.’ Well, that process has now long run its course. In October of 2010, Canada committed to return Omar to complete his sentence in Canada after he served one additional year in Guantánamo Bay. Yet today, he still sits in a cell in Guantanamo, eight months after he was eligible to return to Canada.”
His Pentagon-appointed defence lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, launched what the Toronto Star described as “a scathing critique of Ottawa’s behavior in the case.”
“The ‘Khadr effect’ is alive and well in Guantánamo Bay,” he told the press conference, explaining that Canada’s “stonewalling” on what he and the other lawyers described as “a commitment in a diplomatic note to the US,” at the time the plea deal was signed, “amounts to failing an ally as well as a dereliction of its duty to a Canadian citizen.”
Lt. Col. Jackson also reiterated an important diplomatic point that has been repeatedly mentioned in reports about Khadr over the last few months — that Canada’s stance means that US military prosecutors and defense lawyers “are unable to secure plea bargains with other detainees who don’t believe deals will be honoured because of Canada’s inaction.”
In Lt. Col. Jackson’s words, “There is a great deal of frustration” amongst US personnel at Guantánamo. He said that a senior US official had said to him, “When the hell is Omar going back to Canada?” and he added, “You made a deal. Honor the deal.” He also said, “Canada must honor the agreement it had with Omar Khadr and return him immediately to Canada.”
Lt. Col. Jackson also took the opportunity to humanize Khadr, which is hugely important in breaking through the wall of horrendous prejudice that exists in Canada, where the Canadian people’s often-claimed differences with the US are not at all apparent in Khadr’s case. His humanity is something that his lawyers have worked at explaining over the years, and it has also been revealed in the extraordinary exchange of letters between Khadr and Canadian university professor Arlette Zinck, and runs through the new book, Omar Khadr, Oh Canada, edited by Janice Williamson, featuring 400 pages of contributions by “leading legal experts, poets, novelists, sociologists, political scientists, essayists, playwrights, documentarians, military experts, diplomats, human rights activists, communications scholars, and literary critics.”
“He is not a threat,” Lt. Col. Jackson told reporters, adding, “My government is not known for being soft on terrorism. The US would never agree to transfer a detainee, especially to an ally, if they believed that that detainee was in any way a threat.” He also explained, “I’ve spoken to dozens of guards and staff at Guantánamo Bay and they all say the same thing about Omar Khadr. It needs to be clear to Canadians: He’s a good kid and he deserves a chance at life.” He also noted that he didn’t know why Ottawa was dragging its feet, but that he “understands public skepticism” because, as he put it, “the politics of fear work. Scaring people works.”
Explaining that they were painting “a more personal portrait” of Khadr “to show Canadians he deserves their support,” the lawyers pointed out that, since agreeing to his plea deal, Khadr has been “in restrictive post-conviction custody,” providing him with “limited movement or interaction with other inmates.” As they also noted, “He sits shackled by his feet in a cell most of the day,” and John Norris explained that he was “trying to pursue an education as part of his rehabilitation.”
The two US military lawyers — Maj. Matthew Schwartz as well as Lt. Col. Jackson — “have more access” to Khadr, and have spent hundreds of hours with him. They described him as “an intelligent young man” who is quick to learn and has a “love of learning,” which corresponds exactly with Arlette Zinck’s findings.
As the Toronto Star put it, “Schwartz taught him geography, history and practiced singing O Canada and the American anthem with him,” and “Jackson taught science and mathematics, and read Shakespeare, The Hunger Games and The Road [by Cormac McCarthy] with him.” Lt. Col. Jackson explained, “His insights into those books shows he gets it, he gets what it means to be a useful member of society.”
In a CTV News article, it was noted that Lt. Col. Jackson also said, “It’s been a joy to see him as a student, he has such a love of learning which is something I think is important when you look at what someone’s going to be like when they do get out of prison.”
Lt. Col. Jackson also said, “I believe actions speak louder than words,” and explained that, in 15 years as a military lawyer, he had “represented radical jihadis and soldiers who’ve committed crimes,” but Khadr was not like them. “He is a good person with a good heart and he wants to get an education and make a positive difference in society,” he said. “Could he fool me and could he fool hundreds of guards over a 10-year period? I guess it’s possible. But at the end of the day we rely on what we see and how we interact with Omar.”
In responding to the lawyers’ appeal, the Canadian government still showed no signs of doing anything other than dragging its heels for as long as possible. Spokespeople for the Canadian government have long contended that the government “never gave a guarantee, only that it would ‘favourably’ consider Khadr’s transfer,” and Khadr’s lawyers were advised in a letter on Wednesday that the government still hasn’t made a decision regarding Khadr’s repatriation. As the CBC News website described it, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews “said again Wednesday there was nothing new to say about the case.,” and stated, “I’ve made no decision in that. I’ll make a decision in due course, in accordance with the law.”
Khadr’s lawyers said this was “the first word … they’d heard in months of trying to determine the reason behind the delay,” but were unimpressed. The diplomatic note between the US and Canada, they say, “may have been couched in the language of legal treaties,” but Lawrence Cannon, who was the Foreign Affairs Minister at the time of Khadr’s trial, vowed to “implement the deal” in a statement to Parliament in November 2010.
John Norris added that Khadr’s legal team were “now considering launching another legal action in Federal Court to force the Canadian government to live up to its word.”
Lt. Col. Jackson also lamented, “The United States and Canada are supposed to be the good guys. We’re supposed to stand for human rights, dignity and the rule of law, and the cornerstone of the foundation on which the rule of law is built is honoring your agreements.”
In addition, Senator Dallaire, who, as CBC News put it, “has advocated on behalf of child soldiers,” pointed out that Khadr “was recruited as a 13-year-old and since his arrest following the Afghan battle has clearly had his human rights violated.” He also “called on the government to explain the delay in bringing him back,” asking, “Why not tell us outright why you don’t want him back?”
We all know why, I’m sure. No one in the government is in a hurry to repatriate Omar Khadr, because they don’t want to. Forget Khadr’s rights, trampled by his government. Forget Canada’s obligation to rehabilitate child soldiers, and its work doing just that with child soldiers from other countries. Omar Khadr was a child and a victim of his father’s militancy when he was shot, tortured and taken to Guantánamo, but the Canadian government doesn’t want to know.
Thursday’s press conference was a useful reminder to the world of the Canadian government’s disgraceful and unjustifiable position regarding Omar Khadr. I can only wonder how much more shame and indignation must be expressed before ministers finally fulfil their obligations and free him from his long ordeal in US custody.
Note: Please contact Vic Toews to demand Omar Khadr’s return to Canada.
Constituency Office: 227 Main Street, Suite 8 (Main Office), Steinbach, Manitoba, R5G 1Y7.
Telephone: 204-326-9889, Fax: 204-346-9874.
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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Iffit Qureshi wrote:
That’s appropriate, Iffit. Thanks.
Willy Bach wrote:
Andy, yes, we have to keep trying. Omar Khadr’s case is particularly awful. I try to understand the mindset of the people holding him who are determined to punish him.
Kevi Brannelly wrote:
Last article on close gitmo? Ever?
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
Andy, I´m hearing your voice as I read your articles; it´s a good thing
Toia Tutta Jung wrote:
Kevi Brannely ^^ it´s his latest not last article
Wafa Riyashi wrote:
Love what you doing for the human rights…..
Thanks, Willy, Kevi, Toia and Wafa – and everyone who continues to care about Omar Khadr as a former child prisoner who needs his freedom. The punishment angle is particularly troubling in Omar’s case, isn’t it, Willy, when some people – many of them Canadians – take pleasure in the abuse of a child.
Toia, I’m so glad you can hear my voice. It’s how I try to write, for the words to be spoken, or for readers to hear them while reading.
Wafa, that’s very encouraging. Thank you.
And Kevi, Toia’s right – I mentioned that it’s my latest, not my last. I hope my last article for “Close Guantanamo” will not be until after the prison closes.
Aaf Post wrote:
Thank you for your great article. It looks like the intervention of the lawyers have affected the general opinion also a bit. The tone in the press in Canada and the comments under the articles have changed the last days for the better. We need to put pressure on the responsible Minister Toews and show him we care and we value the rule of law, citizenship, democracy and human rights. Any idea how we influence Toews so he signs the papers BEFORE the summer recess?!
The progress you mention is very good to hear about, Aaf. I suggest that Canadians should write to Vic Toews and ask – demand – that he stops dragging his heels, and approves Omar’s return. Details here:
227 Main Street, Suite 8 (Main Office)
Aaf Post wrote:
Thanks Andy, the letter is sent! I was very disappointed to hear that summer recess of the House in Canada started last Friday, without Toews signing Omar’s papers, that he has on his desk! They have their break while Omar languishes in solitary confinement in Guantanamo. But just like you say and as Amnesty Canada told me earlier today “that should not stop anyone from pressuring Minister Toews. The summer recess is not a summer vacation!” We will provide a pile of letters on his desk too!
Excellent. Yes, sending letters, emailing, phoning – as much as possible – is a great idea, Aaf. Thanks for the suggestion that led me to looking up Vic Toews’ contact details.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Have already sent an email… will copy you in… I reminded Canada of some of their past human rights abuses for which they were not held accountable…
This is Carol’s email:
OMAR KHADR AND CANADA’S HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Dear Mr Toews,
I am writing with regard to Canadian citizen Omar Khadr’s repatriation to Canada. I am an independent researcher on global health / human rights (one of many) following Omar’s case and waiting for Canada to accept this young man back onto home territory.
I understand that only one document remains to be signed, in your possession. What I do not understand is the reason for this delay. Omar’s lawyers, the American government, the UN and thousands of concerned individuals are just as confused.
I am very disappointed with Canada in this respect and saddened that your country also has double standards on human rights. Here we have someone who was a young boy when he was picked up and has been recognized as a child soldier by international NGOs including UNICEF and is thus entitled to rehabilitation not retribution. Right now he sits in solitary confinement and campaigners for justice wait for his rights to be upheld.
Canada and the US expect others to uphold human rights yet are some of the worst offenders and also very adept at avoiding being held to account. I will quote you one example. Have you heard of the Krever Report? Perhaps I could fill in the gaps where Krever left off, where perhaps he was afraid to go at that time! Canadian officials largely escaped being tried for their alleged crimes. Well as an award winning researcher into contaminated blood I could add a lot more to Krever’s evidence now, having accessed documents that some claimed to have been destroyed!
What would the world think if it knew the true extent of this scandal that not only violated the rights of Canadian citizens but killed many also. Who should have been held to account for buying in blood taken from prisoners that had been injected with deadly viruses in unethical experimentation by doctors against the Nuremberg Code? These same prisoners that were beaten, tortured with electrical currents to the testicles, died and whose death certficates were at times falsified. Well that is what Canada found acceptable and knowingly bought this blood from plasma companies and brokers. In Auschwitz, to support such deadly experimentation was classed as “crimes against humanity.”
Omar was a child when he was captured… look at his punishment compared to those that escaped justice in the “bad blood “scandal… those that the Canadian State protected, not children but adults whose alleged crimes killed thousands of ordinary civilians!
Isn’t it about time Canada turned round its human rights record and did the right thing now by this young man. Or do you want one more dark stain on your record… and another round of litigation.
thank you for this article Andy and for your ongoing support for Omar Khadr and the others… This government takes a perverse enjoyment out of being seen as against human rights it seems.
Yes agreed, Janice. Hopefully we can make something of a campaign to besiege Vic Toews with demands for the government to give up stalling, do you think?
Sara Naqwi wrote:
Andy, I wrote a letter to Vic Toews and didn’t hear back from him (no surprise there); I was told to get the letter printed in a newspaper. I wrote to several but did not hear back from them. Would you be able to recommend how I should go about this, and would you be interested in adding it to your website?
Please find it posted below, with my thanks for your passion and sense of justice, as with Carol, above. If newspapers won’t print your letter, why don’t you post it in the comments section on their websites?
This is Sara’s letter:
Attn: Mr Vic Toews — Not Forgetting Canadian Values
Dear Mr Toews,
I hope this mail finds you well.
I have spent many years in Canada and fell in love with the country when I was very young. My father has written many published articles on the kindness and gentle spirit of the Canadian people, and the deep-seated love they hold in their hearts for education and for humanity. What really struck me, as a student in Canada, was how young men and women from all nationalities would spend their summer taking a semester off from university to earn money in order to pay for the remainder of their education. I am grateful to say that I was surrounded with such inspiring people who learnt noble Canadian values, and who took what they learnt with them when they went on to live their lives after graduation. Hard work, ambition, justice and the endless pursuit of knowledge are qualities my father instilled in me from a very early age, which is why he chose Canada as my destination to gain higher education.
Because Canada welcomes people from all countries, and Toronto in particular is a very cosmopolitan city, it was easy for me to befriend many people from different parts of the world. Interestingly enough, we all shared a deep affinity with Canada; in our hearts, we were Canadian. My Pakistani, Egyptian, Indian, Libyan, British, Irish and South African friends had either grown up in Canada, or had moved there to pursue their Bachelors. Though they loved their university, their neighborhoods, the snow flurries in winter, coffee at Tim Horton’s, the autumn leaves in the fall and exploring Canada during Christmas or Easter breaks, they also loved their countries of origin and their roots. This combination, that many North Americans consider unique, made them appreciate Canada wholly.
I am one of many people who has been following Omar Khadr’s case for years now. When I saw in the news that you will be repatriating him back to his home country, Canada, I felt overwhelmed with joy and admiration not only for you, but Canada herself.
Incidentally, I was first introduced to Omar Khadr’s case in my university in Toronto when I took a course called “Law and Justice”. Since then, I have been very closely following his case and I have read extensively on him. I have learnt, without a doubt, that Omar feels very strongly about Canada as his home, and deeply longs for higher education and a normal life. It is extremely unfortunate that at a young age he was pulled in different directions: on one hand, he was an ordinary Canadian teenager who loved Playstation, car magazines, Tin Tin comic books and Harry Potter; on the other hand he was expected to obey his father because that is part of the culture that he also belongs to. Omar, at the tender age of fifteen, did not carry well-established independent thought that would help him argue his way out of going to Afghanistan. If one does not agree with the international juvenile justice standards and believes that a child should be punished, then rest assure, ten years of imprisonment in the notorious Bagram and Guantanamo Bay should suffice.
No matter what part of the world a child belongs to, a fifteen year old boy is still innocent and not yet mature. As you know, Omar has pleaded guilty to his alleged crimes, but I am sure you also understand that, if given the choice between eight years imprisonment or life imprisonment, it was the logical step to desire a promise of freedom by pleading guilty. I cannot imagine anyone in his place, who desires to live and not be locked in a windowless cell for days on end (as you know, Omar has been in solitary confinement since July 2011), would not plead guilty as well, given his choice.
Mr Toews, I request you to take time to consider the simple fact that Omar was indeed a child when he was taken to Bagram, and then to Guantanamo Bay. Ten years of punishment is undeniably severe, and to still be praised by Guantanamo Bay guards and detainees for a patient, gracious and friendly attitude is truly quite a testimonial for Omar Khadr.
I urge you to consider these simple facts, and I also request you to remember the principled Canadian values of your beautiful country: a deep sense of humanity, forgiveness and second chance that all citizens in this world deserve. After having spent many years there as a student, I cannot imagine any country being as considerate and compassionate in this case as Canada.
The simple step of repatriating a Canadian citizen who longs to live a normal life will never be forgotten by the world that still carries hope in Canadian values of justice and humanity.
I thank you for taking the time to read my letter.
Sara Naqwi wrote:
Thanks very much for your swift response and adding it on the site. I wanted it printed in Canadian papers, perhaps under “Commentary” or “Letters to the Editor” to ensure Toews in particular reads it, because he has already received it in his mailbox.
Nonetheless, I shall start posting in the comments section of Canadian papers if I don’t hear back from the papers soon. Many thanks for your guidance, as always.
You’re welcome, Sara. Thank you for your dedication to Omar’s case.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Ministers are notorious for not responding or delegating down so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear but letters on this issue will be read carefully… Its interesting how human rights and the west’s record is being highlighted a lot more in recent days finally, not just in indie media… I was just reading a letter from Jimmy Carter on this in NY Times…..
Thanks, Carol. Yes, I think many decent people were deeply shocked by Obama’s “kill list,” as revealed in the New York Times last month, and which I wrote about here, which revealed how out of control the terror state has become: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2012/06/10/pragmatism-over-ideology-obamas-failure-to-close-guantanamo-and-his-love-of-drones/
Jimmy Carter’s op-ed in the New York Times is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/25/opinion/americas-shameful-human-rights-record.html
THE United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.
Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.
While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.
The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
I cannot but believe that Canada is withholding repatriation of Omar Khadr at the behest of their US masters. One key propagandist, American forensic psychiatrist Michael Weiner, is all over the Canadian press with his diatribes against “enemy of the state,” the “dangerous” Omar Khadr. (See this recent example: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/enemy+state/6834686/story.html)
Of course, Welner testified for the government in the Guantanamo show trial that followed the plea deal. I think it’s well worth reviewing what I said about that travesty at the time. (http://valtinsblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/psychiatric-demonization-of-omar-khadr.html)
Welner is no mere forensic psychiatrist, but a propagandist extraordinaire for the US torture regime. He is a cat’s paw for the military and CIA, both of whom do not wish to see Omar Khadr ever set free. Perhaps he will speak about what he saw, what he endured, what they did to him and others (as when the CIA recruited his brother and placed him in Gitmo.).
Omar’s “dangerousness” is the worst sort of danger of our time: he knows the truth.
Thanks, Jeff. I agree re: Weiner’s hideousness, as apparent from Omar’s trial – but I wasn’t previously aware of the extent of his role as a propagandist for the US torture regime. I do believe, however, that the US is telling the truth about the damage that Omar remaining in Guantanamo is doing to their credibility regarding plea deals, and that the Canadian government is to blame for Omar’s continued detention, as ministers are unwilling to confront their own racism, and unwilling to make a stand about what is right – repatriating a Canadian citizen under the terms of a deal in which they were obviously involved.
You may be right about Canada, and I may have underestimated the depth of racist reaction and its constituency in that country. You could call it American-centroism! I’m assuming you are closer to the situation than I am.
Still, it is possible that one part of the government can authentically speak for justice, the honoring of agreements, lawful order, etc, — and believe it, even fight for it — while another part of the government exists under the radar, rules in secret, and the terms of its policies and agreements are never exactly written down.
Nah… that could never happen… could it?
I only know that officials involved with the military commissions at Guantanamo are serious about the plea deals, Jeff, and that Canada’s stonewalling on this seems to be independent. However, I wouldn’t wish to discredit the notion that there are deep, dark currents of US policy that are below the radar, as you say.
Carol Anne Grayson wrote (in response to 24, above):
Yes that’s the one I posted earlier, thanks… and for your drone article which I shall post on our drone page, Drone Attacks, Civilian Victims… I hope to be filming on drones soon with RedRebel Docs … just doing the rounds of funders… and plan is to be in Pakistan in Autumn hopefully… Was originally planning to film with Saleem Shahzad but will continue in his memory as he would have wished… If anyone is near Menwith Hill on Wednesday the 4th July please consider supporting our Freedom FROM America Day details here… Lauren Booth and I will be speaking along with several others… http://www.caab.org.uk/
Thanks, Carol. Great news about your project.
Allison Lee-Clay wrote:
might I point out that Canada is in the grip of a federal elections fraud scandal by the Conservative Party eho may have gotten their “majority” becaue they hired US ‘democracy consultant firms’ to fraudlently redirect Opposition voters to non-existent & erroneous polling stations?
- sigh – It doesn’t get any better, does it?
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