Omar Khadr Urges Canadian Government to Respect the Law While Dealing with National Security Issues

In the wake of last week’s attacks in Ottawa by a lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a soldier at the National War Memorial and also attacked Parliament Hill, and another attack in Quebec, where a warrant officer was run over and killed, the word “terrorism” has been used liberally, and the Canadian government has rushed to release a new bill, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” which, if passed, “will expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” as the Globe and Mail reported.

The paper stated that sources had told them that the government was “weighing new tools to deal with citizens who openly support terrorist attacks on Canadians or back groups that urge this goal,” and that “the country’s top Mountie”  — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson — was “calling on the government to make it easier to restrict the liberties of suspects in terror cases.” When senior officials start talking openly about restricting liberties, alarm bells should always start ringing.

In another chilling passage, the Globe and Mail noted that the government “has already signalled it’s looking at lowering the threshold for preventive arrests.” That is chilling, of course, because “preventive arrests” overturns the accepted concept of the law as something that is designed to deal with crimes that have taken place, not crimes that may or may not take place in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Appeals Court Rules That Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Should Be Serving a Youth Sentence

Good news about Guantánamo is rare —  whether regarding those still held, or those released — so it was reassuring to hear this week that the Court of Appeal in Alberta, Canada, delivered a major blow to the Canadian government’s efforts to hold former prisoner Omar Khadr in federal prison rather than in a provincial jail. Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence handed down in a plea deal at his trial by military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, and has been held in federal prisons since his return to Canada, where he was born in 1986.

The 27-year old was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US forces in a compound. He had been taken there, and deposited with some adults, by his father, but on his capture, when he was severely wounded, he was abused in US custody and eventually put forward for a war crimes trial, even though, as a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished according to an international treaty on the rights of the child signed by the US (and by Canada), even though there is no evidence that the allegation that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier is true, and even though there is no precedent for claiming that a combat death in an occupied country is a war crime.

Khadr has since explained that he only agreed to the plea deal because he could see no other way of ever getting out of Guantánamo, and last November, via his US civilian lawyer, Sam Morison, he appealed in the US for his conviction to be overturned. In recent years, US appeals court judges have delivered two devastating rulings, overturning two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, in the cases of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men were convicted were not war crimes at the time the legislation authorizing the commissions was passed — and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s Prison Ombudsman Still Critical of Classification of Omar Khadr, Former Guantánamo Prisoner

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how, for the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk, and moved for the maximum-security prison in which he had been held, in Edmonton, to the Bowden Institution in Alberta province, a medium-security facility with a minimum-security annex.

I also noted how this move “punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual,” and, it should be noted, it also enables him to be able to apply for parole.

Neverthless, Ivan Zinger, the executive director of the independent Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada’s prison ombudsman), is still critical of the position taken by the prison authorities. Last week, Colin Perkel of The Canadian Press reported that, in a letter to the Correctional Service of Canada’s senior deputy commissioner, Zinger wrote that the correctional authorities had “unfairly classified” Khadr, “even though they lowered his risk rating from maximum to medium security.” Read the rest of this entry »

Progress in Canada: Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Moved to Medium-Security Prison

For the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk. The move punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual.

This lamentable rhetoric is the product of three particular factors: racism and/or Islamophobia; a hypocritical refusal to recognize the rights of child prisoners, despite a Supreme Court judgment that was severely critical of the government; and a deliberate refusal to recognise that Khadr’s plea deal at a military commission trial in Guantánamo had nothing to do with justice and guilt, and was agreed to solely to secure his release from Guantánamo, and his return home to Canada, where he was born 27 years ago.

Khadr was just 15 years old when he was seized by US forces, in a severely wounded state, after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. According to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force in February 2002, and which both the US and Canada then ratified, juvenile prisoners — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Condemns His Guantánamo Plea Deal, As Canada Concedes He Is Not A “Maximum-Security Threat”

Good news from Canada, finally, as former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr has been “reclassified as a medium-security risk,” and will be moved from Edmonton, where he is currently held as a maximum-security prisoner, to Bowden Correctional Institution, north of Calgary. The move will probably take place in the next few weeks, as the Edmonton Journal described it on Friday.

Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, has persistently been treated with disdain by the Canadian government, which, for ten years, failed to stand up for his rights as a Canadian citizen and a juvenile prisoner.

When Khadr finally agreed to a plea deal at Guantánamo, just to be sent home, the Canadian government dragged its heels regarding its own part of the bargain. After the plea deal was agreed, during his trial by military commission at Guantánamo in October 2010, Khadr was supposed to spend just one more year at Guantánamo followed by seven years’ imprisonment in Canada after his repatriation, but it took 23 months for him to be returned, and, since his return, he has been held as a maximum-security prisoner, even though he has never been a high-risk prisoner.

Dennis Edney, the Edmonton lawyer who has been representing Khadr for ten years, explained how the decision to reclassify Khadr as “medium-security,” which was taken by Kelly Hartle, the warden at Edmonton, “reflects a ‘plethora of evidence’ from US authorities and Canada’s prison ombudsman that Khadr never was a maximum-security threat,” as the Edmonton Journal described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer, Sam Morison, Explains Why His Guantánamo War Crimes Conviction is a Disgrace

If you have the time to watch a 46-minute video about Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner held at Guantánamo for 11 years, then I heartily recommend the recording of a recent talk in Canada by Sam Morison, a civilian lawyer working for the US Department of Defense, who recently submitted an appeal against Khadr’s 2010 conviction in his trial by military commission, as I explained in an article two weeks ago entitled, “‘He Didn’t Commit a War Crime': Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo.”

The video of the talk, which took place at The King’s University College in Edmonton, was posted on the website of the Free Omar Khadr campaign, and is posted below, via YouTube. It was organized by the University of Alberta’s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life and the Micah Centre at The King’s University College, and a previous talk (also posted below) featured Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours with Omar Khadr at Guantánamo. Both events took place under the heading “Omar Khadr: The Man – The Law.”

Morison, who “has practiced law for more than 20 years and is a nationally recognized expert on federal executive clemency and the restoration of civil rights,” as his website describes him, delivered a compelling explanation for why Khadr is not guilty of war crimes, when the appeal was submitted. Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, pleading guilty to five crimes, including killing a US soldier by throwing a grenade during the firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 that led to his capture, but there is no evidence that he actually threw the grenade, and he only accepted the plea deal as a way to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence in exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

“He Didn’t Commit a War Crime”: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo

Last week was a busy week for legal challenges by former Guantánamo prisoners. Just after David Hicks announced that he was appealing against his 2007 conviction for providing material support for terrorism (which I wrote about here), Omar Khadr’s lawyer in the US announced that the Canadian citizen, who was repatriated in September 2012 but is still imprisoned in his home country, is “set to appeal his five war crimes convictions on the grounds that the military commission had no legal authority to try him or accept his guilty pleas,” as Colin Perkel described it for The Canadian Press.

In order to leave Guantánamo, Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, in which he admitted that he was guilty of murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying, even though there are serious problems with the credibility of the main charge against him — that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier — as an investigation of the evidence indicates that, at the time, he was unconscious, having been shot twice in the back at close range.

Khadr is able to challenge two of the charges against him — providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy — because of two rulings by the court of appeals in Washington D.C. last October and in January this year, when judges threw out two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions at Guantánamo, in 2008 — against Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

Lies and Injustice: Canada’s Ongoing Mistreatment of Omar Khadr

Last week, in a court in Edmonton, Justice John Rooke, responding to a habeas corpus petition submitted in September by former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, issued a ruling ordering him to remain in a maximum security federal prison rather than being moved to a provincial prison, “limiting his chances for parole,” as the Toronto Star described it.

Khadr, who was a juvenile — just 15 years old — when he was seized in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, was held at Guantánamo for ten years, and only left the prison after agreeing to a plea deal in October 2010, in which he accepted five charges — spying, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, attempted murder and murder (of a US Special Forces soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer), even though that last charge was based on an extremely untrustworthy claim that he had thrown the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer. Under the terms of the plea deal, he received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo and the remaining seven in Canada.

Eleven months late, in September 2012, Khadr was eventually returned to Canada, where he was imprisoned in the Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security prison near Kingston, Ontario. In May this year, after he received threats from another prisoner, he was moved to another maximum security prison, the Edmonton Institution in Edmonton, Alberta, and in August his lawyer, Dennis Edney, sought his transfer to a provincial prison. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Omar Khadr’s 27th Birthday: He’s Free from Guantánamo, but Still Unjustly Imprisoned in Canada

Today is the 27th birthday of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned since he was 15 years old — in Guantánamo for ten years, and, since the end of September last year, in Canada.

Khadr’s return to Canada followed a monstrous travesty of justice in the US. Under the terms of a plea deal in October 2010, in his trial by military commission, he admitted to being an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” and to throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier at the time of his capture during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, even though the evidence suggests that he was face down and unconscious, having been shot in the back, when the grenade was thrown. Disgracefully, he was also obliged to admit that, by partaking in combat with US forces during wartime and in an occupied country, he was a war criminal.

Khadr agreed to the plea deal solely in order to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence (as opposed the 40-year sentence arrived at during his trial), with one year to be served at Guantánamo and the remaining seven in Canada.

Most importantly, Khadr was just a child when he was seized, even though, as a juvenile — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — he should have been rehabilitated, according to 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, rather than being tortured and otherwise abused in US custody, and abandoned by his own government. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s Shameful and Unending Disdain for Omar Khadr

Three months ago, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen seized as a child and held and abused by the US government in Guantánamo for ten years, was returned to Canada, where he now languishes in a maximum-security prison.

Technically, the Canadian government is entitled to imprison him for another five years and ten months, according to a plea deal Khadr agreed to in October 2010. Under the terms of that deal, he received an eight-year sentence for his role in a firefight in Afghanistan that led to his capture in July 2002, with one year to be served in Guantánamo and seven more in Canada.

Notoriously, however, the Canadian government dragged its heels securing his return, which only happened at the end of September last year, instead of in November 2011. This was typical, given that, throughout Khadr’s detention, his government ignored its obligations to demand his rehabilitation under 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, as did his US captors. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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