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.

So grave was the Canadian government’s violation of Khadr’s rights as a citizen that, in 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that his rights had been violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantánamo in 2003, when he was just 16. The Court stated, “Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the US prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

For many people — lawyers included — who have been watching Khadr’s case, it was hoped that, although the Canadian government ignored the Supreme Court’s ruling, ministers would face legal challenges on his return, which would lead to his speedy release, and the chance to resume his life after what is now nearly ten and a half lost years.

However, as the Toronto Star noted in an article on December 20, rather than being released, Khadr, who is currently held in the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security facility, will remain incarcerated there “with little chance of rehabilitation or parole for at least two years.” Held in the hospital since his return on September 29, he “is now expected to be moved to a range in the general population with other maximum security inmates.”

The Toronto Star obtained a report by the Correctional Service of Canada, which stated that, “due to his Guantánamo conviction, Khadr was assessed as an inmate convicted of first-degree murder and terrorism and therefore is automatically designated ‘maximum security.'” This means that, although, in theory, he will be “eligible for day parole in March,” it is unlikely that his parole will be granted. As the Star explained, “it is extremely rare for anyone with this designation to be approved,” and it is far more likely that he will remain imprisoned without parole until at least 2015, as his status will not be reviewed until December 2014.

Anthony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, told the Star he was “dismayed” that the Correctional Service had chosen to “apply the standardized ‘Custody Rating Scale’ for Khadr, which automatically designates him maximum security, despite the unique aspects of his case and reports of his good behaviour during his 10-year incarceration at Guantánamo.”

Doob said, “They should be looking at his past, the circumstances of his offence, how old he was.” He added, “It’s perpetuating this view that he’s the same as the guy who is a terrorist or member of organized crime who killed somebody on the streets of Toronto yesterday. The thing about approaching this the way they did ensures the outcome. I’ve never met Omar Khadr, I know nothing about him and I can go to the web and see that he’s going to be classified as maximum security.” Adding criticism of the fact that the Correctional Service took three months to reach its decision, he also asked, “Isn’t that a little bizarre? Why didn’t it take three minutes instead of three months if that is all they were going to do?”

His comments provide a good summary of how, in the so-called “war on terror,” the fundamental notions that anyone accused of a crime should be arrested, given their rights, and then, if tried, convicted and sentenced, should serves their sentence and be allowed to return to society, have been discarded. When the word “terrorism” is invoked — and especially when it is accompanied by the word “Guantánamo” — the notion of serving time and paying one’s debt to society has been replaced by a hysterical notion of people being a permanent peril, a designation that previously would only have applied to a very small number of people with a deep-rooted violent psychosis.

In Omar Khadr’s case, this is ridiculous, as the success of his rehabilitation, even at Guantánamo, is clear from the role played by Edmonton professor Arlette Zinck, who spent several years communicating with Khadr, and was even allowed to visit him prior to his release, to help facilitate his transition from Guantánamo to life back in Canada, as I related here.

However, Anthony Doob’s words also accurately describe how, yet again, the Canadian establishment is dragging its heels when it comes to dealing fairly with Omar Khadr. A three-month wait for a decision that was already made is typical of the disdain for Khadr that has been persistent since 2002.

Doob’s criticisms were echoed by Khadr’s lawyer, John Norris, who, as the Star put it, said that he was disappointed that the designation will limit the Correctional Service’s ability to “provide rehabilitation options,” with the exception of the “education and religious counselling” that he is receiving “from a prison-approved imam.” Norris said, “Their hands really are tied by the fact that he’s stuck in max, because they can’t help him get ready to return to the community.”

Norris added that he was “weighing the options” regarding legal challenges, and also said, “What he really needs is the ability to re-integrate into the community. Re-integration is one of the cardinal principles of dealing with child soldiers. It’s also a key principle in dealing with young people in general.”

Shorn of his right to be treated, however belatedly, as a child who was manipulated by his father and then punished by both the US and Canada, in defiance of their obligations regarding child prisoners, it seems that Khadr will only receive the same rights as other adult inmates, although this will include the right to have visitors — a contrast to Guantánamo, of course, where, in eleven years, Khadr is the only prisoner to have received a visit from a civilian, when Arlette Zinck visited him in May last year.

Elaborating, Norris told the Star that Khadr’s mother, Maha Elsamnah, had been allowed to visit him, as had Arlette Zinck.

The lawyer also explained how Khadr’s “maximum security” designation was worked out, and why it was so misleading. A rating over 134 points automatically defines a prisoner as maximum security, and Khadr has 139 points — “69 points for a murder conviction, 20 points for a terrorism offence, 30 points for his age at the time of conviction (he was 25) and 20 points for his sentence length (eight years).” As Norris pointed out, however, “This says absolutely nothing about whether Omar is a danger to the public and it’s critical people understand it’s completely divorced from that.” He added, crucially, that the scoring method actually required the Correctional Service to ignore any evidence establishing that he is “not a danger.”

Ludicrously, the assessment report recommended that Khadr be kept in a “highly structured environment in which individual and group interaction is subject to direct and constant supervision,” as though he is at risk of being influenced negatively. The report noted that, “During the intake assessment interview Khadr emphasized that his current sentiments/beliefs reflect pro-social changes in attitudes promoting peaceful resolution to conflicts,” but added that, “given Khadr’s limited access to other inmates since his arrival,” it was “difficult to assess” how he would interact with other prisoners.

The report added, “Not to negate the length of time he has spent in custody (in Guantánamo) with no evidence of attitudinal or behaviour problems, Khadr is a new arrival to the Canadian federal correctional system … Correctional Services Canada has not had the opportunity to assess the risk he may pose to the security of the institution, other offenders or the risk to his own safety.”

To their credit, the Correctional Service noted “positive assessments” of Khadr by Katherine Porterfield, a clinical psychologist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital and forensic psychiatrist and retired US Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, who both spent hundreds of hours with Khadr at Guantánamo, adding, “it would appear that Khadr demonstrated the ability to develop positive interpersonal relationships.”

The report’s authors also ignored negative assessments by other supposed experts, like the psychiatrists Michael Welner or Alan Hopewell, whose bleak and biased assessments were requested from US defence secretary Leon Panetta by the Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, “delaying Khadr’s expected transfer to Canada and infuriating Obama administration officials eager to transfer” him, as the Star described it — not out of kindness, it should be noted, but because of a desire to persuade other Guantánamo prisoners that it is worth making plea deals.

Typically, the Correctional Service reported that the authorities at Guantánamo had failed to provide any information to them “pertaining to his behavior while detained at the facility.” Nevertheless, although the Canadian prison authorities are obliged to follow their rules, it remains apparent that the Canadian government continues to think that, when it comes to Omar Khadr, their own actions should not be subjected to any rules whatsoever.

For anyone concerned with fairness and justice, the Canadian Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling ought to provide the basis for securing Omar Khadr’s swift release and return to a life of freedom, and I hope that a legal challenge will be mounted if the delays continue. It is time for Omar Khadr to be released.

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, Flickr (my photos) 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.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

44 Responses

  1. Tom says...

    Obviously, what the Conservatives wanted was for Khadr to just shut up and disappear. However, since rulings continue to go against them, they’ll drag out the process as much as possible. They can throw in lots of legal points like the safety of the general population, is he a threat to his fellow inmates or not, and so on. They could also match their psychiatrist against his court appointed psychiatrist. Which expert is telling the truth?

    Unfortunately, both Khadr and his attorney know they have to compete against everything from Kevin O’Leary to Kim Kardashian for the public’s attention. Sad but true.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, that and pandering to the racists and Islamophobes in Canadian society. It’s been a grubby story for Canada from the beginning, but what has depressed me the most has been the refusal of so many people to recognize that Omar was not responsible for his actions, because he was a child being directed by his father. The Optional Protocol on the rights of children in armed conflict is supposed to mean something, after all …

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Sara Naqwi wrote:

    The moment Omar returned to Canada, Toews made a statement calling Omar a ”terrorist”, despite the blatant vitriol that has surrounded Omar for the past ten years. Based on that, and the frightening fact that Toews is a member of the parole board that makes the decision, Omar needs our support more than ever… not just from Canadians but from people worldwide. I hope his lawyers have something planned regarding the 2014 decision. The inhumanity, the injustice of this case is astounding, utterly stupefying. I mean, the first time I learnt about Omar was in a *Canadian* university in a course I took called “Law and Justice”! Ironic, and utterly maddening… to see this nightmare continue.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sara, for the important background information abut the program of misinformation since Omar returned to Canada three months ago. I had missed out on the fact that Toews had called Omar a terrorist, and I didn’t know, until you mentioned it, that Toews is part of the parole board. Do you know much about how many visitors Omar is allowed? I was pleased to note that his mother and Arlette had visited, and I’d hope that he can at least have regular visits to offset the horrors of isolation at Guantanamo for so many years.
    However, above all, I share your enthusiasm for legal action. When the Supreme Court rules that your government violated your rights, it ought to mean something …

  5. Tom says...

    Another angle to consider. Can you name one instance where Prime Minister Stephen Harper publically went against Obama on an issue? In the States you have the NDAA. In Canada, the equivalent is a detention order that allows the govt. to indefinitely hold anyone deemed a “security risk”. In the UK, does the govt. have the same power?

    Just out of curiousity, I’ve checked out various intelligence service public sites for information about their hiring (not that I would actually apply). Whether it’s the CIA, CSIS, MI5 or 6 or the ASIS, it’s generally the same catagories. With that in mind (and what we know about countries outsourcing torture for plausible deniability protection), why would you join something that violates intl. law and says it’s okay? Genuinely wanting to serve your country is one thing. However, if somebody tortures an innocent person and then goes on an all expense paid holiday later, how do you live with yourself?

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I’m sure you’re right about Harper’s record, of not opposing Obama – or, for that matter, of the Canadian government not opposing Bush either. As for arbitrary detention, the reality is that the US, Canada and the UK all came up with their own ways of holding Muslims they regarded as a “terrorist threat” after 9/11, and have obviously been comparing notes. I spent many years covering the problems with the British government’s position. See:

    As for joining government agencies with dodgy human rights records, is that mot perhaps what some people call being patriotic?

  7. Tom says...

    Thanks for the link. Good point re: some who sign up w/some govt. agency. It’s been at least a year since Khadr was mentioned by the MSM here (as far as I know).

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome regarding the link, Tom. From 2008 to 2010, in particular, I was very much on top of the problems with the British government and its approach to terrorism. It hasn’t gone away, of course, despite the Tory-Lib Dem coalition taking over fro Labour, which had a terrible record on protecting human rights while combatting terrorism. There are still people deprived of their liberty without charge or trial in the UK – or those whom the government wants to deport, also without charge or trial, to countries with appalling human rights records – on the basis of secret evidence, and we now have a government that wants secret courts for anything that they think might embarrass them (or their American friends) at any time, and under any and all circumstances that ministers deem necessary. It’s disgraceful, but I simply haven’t been able to devote much time to it, as I try, when I can, to cover so many other crimes perpetrated by this wretched government.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Hilary Homes wrote, in response to 3, above:

    quick clarification: Toews is not a member of the parole board.
    The members are here:

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Naqwi wrote:

    Thanks for that update, Hilary. Apologies for the wrong info, Andy, I should’ve verified this fact by going on the above link.

    As you know, Toews remained silent in regards to Omar’s repatriation for the longest time despite public outcry. It was after Macleans leaked Omar’s interview transcripts, causing a strain between US-Canada ties & further pressure on Toews, that Omar was suddenly back in Canada. John Norris did point out that that is perhaps why the repatriation took place suddenly. Makes sense why Toews held on to the whole ”but he’s still a terrorist” song the day Omar came home.

    Like you, I also wonder about the power of the Supreme Court ruling. Yes, his rights were violated… but then what?

    I don’t know the details of how many visitors Omar is allowed (perhaps Aaf Post knows?), but I know he’s spoken to his family on the phone, met his mother and Arlette… extremely joyful news, thank God. His mother had pointed out that he has lost more weight because he eats alone due to the rules of solitary.

    Omar’s receiving mail and also replying. Perhaps you recall that Omar Deghayes mentioned how receiving mail in Guantanamo from supporters helped him get noticed by the guards — “Who is this guy?” No doubt many people sending Omar cards and letters will be very beneficial not just for him, but for his case. I’m sure of it.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that clarification, Hilary.
    I’m sure I saw Omar’s address somewhere, for supporters to send him letters. Do you know what the address is and we can publicize it?
    As for the timing of his return, it was also connected to ongoing pressure from the US authorities, as the Canadians were damaging their hopes of persuading other prisoners to accept plea deals to secure their release from Guantanamo.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Sara Naqwi wrote:

    This is Omar’s address (please note he doesn’t have a prison #):

    Omar Khadr
    Millhaven Institution, Hwy 33
    P.O. Box 280
    Bath, Ontario
    K0H 1G0

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sara. So there you have it. Please write to Omar if you want him to know that he has not been forgotten.

  14. Tom says...

    Possibly off topic, but I’ll ask anyway. The Guardian ran a series on the powers that MI5 and 6 have in carrying out their duties. They also mentioned that under a special law, the Home Secretary has the power to give immunity to any covert operatives who are accused of commiting a crime overseas. They can’t be extradited or tried in UK courts.

    I’m assuming then that this could be applied to anyone accused of torturing someone or outsourcing it to someone else. Andy, have you ever talked to someone who’s dealt with this? Here, the equivalent is the NDAA and the torture rulings that Bush had written. Everything gives retroactive immunity to anyone remotely connected. You also have to keep in mind that if you do criticize the Administration, many Obama supporters will fall back on the usual responses (blame Bush, give Obama a break, he’s done nothing wrong, and so on). It’s literally selective amnesia.

    Now, the govt, is at least $10 billion over the $16.4 trillion national debt limit. Outgoing Treasury Sec. Geithner is basically running a 3 card Monty game to make it appear that no, we’re not “officially” bankrupt yet. We’ll just use stopgap measures like stop selling long term bonds to finance govt. employee retirement plans.

    Problem for Obama, How do you protect national security financially without appearing to be weak on “terrorism”? If you can’t pay the budget to maintain Guantanamo (and the lease with Cuba for the land), how do you keep it open? Creative accounting is usually the first response. You spend, but it’s a matter of where it shows up as an “offical expense” versus something that’s “classified” (exs., the CIA and NSA annual budgets).

    Congress doesn’t want the detainees on US soil. Many other countries won’t take them in. If there’s no propaganada value in a mainland trial, why bother?

    At the moment, “political coverage” here is surreal. Will Hillary run in 2016? Did she fake her illness? Isn’t it cute that Speaker Boehner cries and is so emotional. Forget actual issues?

  15. Helen Sadowski says...

    it is important to keep in mind that the crimes which Omar was charged with were made up at least 4 years after he was arrested. To charge someone retroactively was addressed by a US appeal court. “The court found that Mr. Hamdan’s conviction by a military commission for providing material support for terrorism could not stand because, under the international law of war in effect at the time of his actions, there was no such defined war crime.

    The Military Commission Act, a law passed in 2006, does not authorize such retroactive prosecutions, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled.” Here is the link:

    Not only was the crime not a crime at the time that Omar was captured, but the military commission process in Guantanamo which convicted him of murder and terrorism was not a court process that was capable of determining guilt or innocence. Unfortunately the terms “murderer” , “war criminal” and “terrorist” are used to describe Omar when he was not given a fair trial and the basic principles of the law were ignored. Corrections Canada does not acknowledge any of this in their assessments. The whole process is “rotten to the core.”

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. To provide a very brief response, similar obstacles to accountability have been raised to shield torturers in both the US and the UK, and obviously it’s difficult to imagine that changing anytime soon. Because of a handful of brave judges challenging the government here in the UK in the case of Binyam Mohamed, we’ve ended up with the government wanting blanket secrecy for anything they don’t want discussed, a situation that has involved pressure from the CIA, whose antics the British judges wanted to expose, and British ministers have obviously also drawn on Obama’s use of the “state secrets” doctrine in the US.
    As for Guantanamo, I’ve noticed Obama trying to steer Congress in the direction of money. Someone at some point is going to have to cut the military budget …

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Helen. The Hamdan ruling was hugely significant, as Judge Kavanaugh, a deeply conservative judge, ruled, “Because we read the Military Commissions Act not to sanction retroactive punishment for new crimes, and because material support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime under 10 U.S.C. § 821, Hamdan’s conviction for material support for terrorism cannot stand.” However, it’s not of huge relevance to Omar, who pleaded guilty to murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder in violation of the laws of war, conspiracy, two counts of providing material support for terrorism and spying. The horror, to me, has always been that, although he was a child at the time of his capture, he was obliged to accept that he was a war criminal for taking part in combat during wartime, in an occupied country (Afghanistan), and against the occupier (the US), in order to secure his release from Guantanamo. Whichever way you look at it, as you put it, the whole process is “rotten to the core.”

  18. Tom says...

    Not to take anything away from your work here. But, some of the best (and most ignored?) observations have come from John Pilger on Guantanamo and “terrorism”. One being this: under current intl. law, if you illegally occupy another country, the occupiers then become legitimate targets. It seems odd to me that Pilger can be well-respected internationally, but virtually blacked out at the same time. I’ve seen and heard some of his interviews, and usually the presenter tries to play up the “controversy” angle of his being there. Then again, why is this controversial?

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Good points, Tom. What’s controversial is that you’re not fundamentally allowed to question what America did after 9/11. I think it’s as simple as that. Pilger rocks the boat, and those who do don’t get primetime recognition, essentially.

  20. Tom says...

    I’ve seen in the past that you’ve done some BBC interviews. Have you had coverage in other countries (excluding the States)? One comparison would be with Pepe Escobar (Asia Times). According to him, it’s as you say: the One Global Network Syndrome. If you’re on the BBC, they have all sorts of agendas. If you’re on CCTV, nothing controversial is permitted. If it’s Canada or the States, publically questioning govt. policy on “terrorism” is unpatriotic. One of the best things I’ve found is to build up your own global live feed source. It’s a lot of work. Then again, even if you don’t speak the language, no worries. It’s a matter of knowing where to look so you can get almost all of it for free.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Mainly, Tom, I’ve been embraced by channels that aren’t part of the western mainstream – Al-Jazeera, RT, Press TV, for example. The biggest problem now, however, is the almost complete indifference towards Guantanamo, across the board.

  22. Rob Betty says...

    The “rotten to the the core” comments are true, however I think a better metaphor is that of a rotten foundation in a building.

    The military tribunal system at Guantanamo is fundamentally unjust and as a jurisdiction it exists solely to avoid inconveniences presented by the many hard earned legal and civil rights that form the foundation of British, American and Canadian societies.

    Building upon the unjust foundation of Guantanamo, it is unrealistic to expect truly just results for Omar even though he is now back in Canada. Instead we get a house of cards precariously perched on a crumbled foundation. With each new decision, no matter how well intentioned, you just get a taller house of cards.

    This is not to say there will not be many happy outcomes for Omar in the future, but true justice will elude him (and us) until Western society accepts that Guantanamo is a fundamentally flawed place that sells out our core values in exchange for a good night’s sleep. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, if we can accept this, we deserve neither!

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent comments, Rob. Very good to hear from you.

  24. arcticredriver says...

    Greetings Andy,

    I agree that the treatment Khadr received from the Conservatives is really shameful. I think it is a whole order of magnitude more at fault than what he received from the previous Liberal government, but that that was also shameful.

    I think it is worth comparing how the Harper government treated Omar with how it treated Brenda Martin, a Canadian woman in her fifties who had been living and working in Mexico.–brenda-martin-lands-back-on-canadian-soil

    The Harper government made a real effort on her behalf — did things for her that they did not do for Omar, and for a lot of other Canadians who needed consular assistance. Harper personally phoned Mexican officials. Jason Kenney, a Minister personally visited her twice. The Government of Canada loaned her the money to pay her fine, and provided a chartered plane, at a cost of $80,000, to bring her home.

    One of Ms Martin’s employer had been a high flying stock broker who would eventually be convicted of robbing his investors of hundreds of millions of dollars. She worked for him as a cook, for less than a year, before he was caught. While she worked for him she had a $10,000 investment in his fund. When he fired her, she asked for her $10,000 back.

    I went back and re-read the coverage of her Mexican detention, and from the Canadian sources at least, it sounds like this $10,000 check is the entire slim circumstantial basis for her arrest and eventual conviction.

    As I read the Canadian coverage of the Harper government’s efforts on her behalf in 2007 through 2009 the impression I was left with was that Ms Martin too was being held without charge. It sounded to me, at the time, as if corrupt Mexican officials were holding her without charge because they thought she might know where her former employees was hiding some of his ill-gotten gains.

    However, re-reading the coverage, it seems she was charged, but that her trial kept being delayed for specious sounding reasons.

    Anyhow, after two years of diplomatic pressure, she did have a Mexican trial — where she was convicted. While she received a five year sentence, and a fine, she was allowed to serve her sentence in Canada — using the usual Canadian parole procedures.

    The usual Canadian parole procedures, applied in her case, and not in Omar’s case, are that time spent in detention prior to trial is subtracted from convict’s sentence, at a ratio of 2 to 1. So, since she had already been held for 26 months in custody prior to her sentence, she spent only one week in custody prior to being granted parole.
    His US plea deal explicitly required Omar to agree his sentence started ticking the the day he was sentenced, and time in pre-trial detention didn’t count.

    The usual Canadian parole procedure is that a convict is entitled to be considered for parole after serving one third of their sentence. And, if they have exhibited good behavior that parole is usually granted. It is usally granted in stages, including staying in a half-way house, for a time, where they would be required to be back before a curfew, but would be allowed out, unsupervised to go to school, or look for a job.

    Andy, one of your other readers wrote that they thought Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety, sat on the Parole Board. When Toews was making his shocking comments about Omar I thought I remembered commentators soft-pedalling the importance of those statements — as the Parole Board was supposed to make its decision independently from Toews.

    If that were true however, it is hard to explain the Board’s ruling.

  25. arcticredriver says...

    Correction, her employer was believed to have bilked investors who believed in him of $60,000,000, not hundreds of millions as I wrote above.

    William Sampson, the joint citizen of Canada and the UK, who the Saudis brutally tortured together with half a dozen other Europeans working in Saudi Arabia, also never got a pardon, lived the rest of his life with a guilty sentence hanging over his head — even if everyone in Canada and the UK knew he never had a fair trial, and the conviction was ridiculous.

    I don’t think I understand how the Australian justice system was able to rule that David Hicks’s conviction was bogus, but William Sampson’s, Omar Khadr’s and Ms Martin’s can’t be challenged. I could see a diplomat arguing that Canada or the UK couldn’t review the sentence of a foreign court, and overturn a conviction in a foreign court, or foreign goverments would decide to never let Canadian citizens or UK citizens served their sentences at home. But then why could Hicks’s get to challenge his conviction? Mind you, he had already served his time, and the over-turning’s main consequence was that it allowed him too keep the profits from his book

    Omar certainly deserves to have his conviction over-turned, due to the inherent unfairness of the guantanamo military commission system, where it is in the interests of even innocent men to plead guilty.

    And if pre-trial detention normally counts 2 to 1 it seems to me that fundamental fairness would cause days of detention where one might reasonabily expect further torture should count twenty to one.

  26. Helen Sadowski says...

    Thanks for the clarification on the impact of the Hamden case with regards to Omar.

    Andy, thanks again for your essays, blogs, research, networking and dedication to these causes. It makes many of us feel less alone when we are also trying to address them and get discouraged in the process. All the best in the coming year!!!!

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks as ever, arcticredriver, for your thoughts. There was a clarification about the parole board, demonstrating that he was not involved in it, which helps to prove your point.
    I was interested in your analogy with Brenda Martin’s case, although in Omar’s case one thing that probably rankled with some Canadian officials is how Omar’s father was actually helped out in Afghanistan several years before Omar’s capture, which presumably led to a desire not to help the Khadrs again – another example of Omar being made to pay for the perceived sins of his father.

  28. Paul Siemering says...

    Pardon me for doing this, but I need to remember who this terrible kid is. A child soldier, pressed into the military defense of Afghanistan by his family. the u.s. troops called in an airstrike on a compound they were attacking. looked like no one would be found alive in the wreckage, but the hero sent to look it over found a kid huddled in a room in back, clearly still alive. honoring an old u.s. habit, the soldier shot this unknown and unoffending boy in the back. twice. at some point in all this ruckus one u.s. soldier was killed by a grenade. no one saw who if anyone threw it but there was this kid with two bullet holes in him but still alive. so when the order went forth to round up the usual suspects, little Omar was it. no evidence, no trial just guilty of “murdering” a foreign soldier invading Afghanistan. If a case like this had been brought before a real judge in a real court of law, he’d have sent the boy home, since child soldiers are victims of whoever put them there, and are not charged as perpetrators. If he had been old enough to be charged the judge would have asked for evidence and since there was none, he would have sent him home again. Finally, if someone convinced him that Omar had tossed the fatal grenade, the judge would have roared “what the damn hell do you expect people to do when you invade their country? what cry babies!”
    I’m sure everyone here already knows all this. I’m just sayin’

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. Good to hear from you, by the way, and thanks for the succinct explanation of what’s wrong and why!

  30. arcticredriver says...

    I have been trying to figure out the actual relationship between Omar’s father and the jihadist figures in Afghanistan.

    We know that Omar’s parents sent his older brothers Abdullah and Abdurahman to the Khaldan training camp. And, now that some of us who have looked into what the public record has to say about that camp and have concluded that Abu Zubaydah seems to have been telling the truth when he testified the camp was not al Qaeda camp, but rather a rival, less exteme camp, that competed with bin Laden for funding from the same pool of oil-rich sponsors he relied on, I see this as a cause to doubt that Omar’s father was a member of al Qaeda.

    Omar’s parents sent their daughters to school — another reason to doubt he was a member of al Qaeda — as they could not agree to daughters being educated. Osama bin Laden did not educate his daughters.

    The charity Omar’s parents ran operated orphanages that had schools for the girl orphans being raised there, yet another reason to doubt he was a member of al Qaeda.

    We know, from “Son of al Qaeda”, that the Khadr family visited with the bin Ladens, and the Khadr children met bin Laden’s children. Some accounts seem to claim that Khadr was a camp follower, who dragged his family from camp to camp. But it seems to me that what was described was a single visit — long enough for the children to meet one another, play with one another. I still remember some of the kids who I shared a cabin with, from summer camp — even though I only knew them for 3 and a half weeks. What I have read about this visit suggests that the Khadr’s visit to the bin Ladens was only a couple of weeks long, and that other families were also visiting at the same time.

    What I suspect is that after meeting or hearing about the Khadr children OBL decided they were too westernized, and were a bad influence on his children. It sounds like rather than giving the Khadrs the bum’s rush, he merely said, “Well thanks for the visit. I have business back in Kandahar, or back in Nangarhar, so my family and I will be leaving tomorrow. But I’ll stay in touch.” Bin Laden sounds like a guy capable of jealousy, and the use of extreme methods, like assassination — but that he didn’t resort to those extreme methods merely when someone had unruly children, especially when that contact was someone he might be able to use in future.

    There are accounts that, at some time prior to 9-11, Omar’s father was sufficiently prominent, and sufficiently trusted, that he was asked to serve as a mediator between Gulbuddin’s Hizbe Islami group and the Taliban. Or maybe it was HiG and some other jihadist group. If he had been seen as a member of al Qaeda he would not have been called upon to serve as a mediator.

    It seems to me that the US analysts have consistently failed to understand the relationship between HiG and the Taliban. It seems to me that the record shows that, prior to 9-11, HiG and the Taliban were enemies, in the midst of an active civil war, that the Taliban wasn’t only fighting a civil war with the Northern Alliance, but they were also in a separate fight with the HiG, and some smaller groups. The Taliban were, in 2001, the receipients of aid and support from Pakistan’s ISI. But HiG had been the receipients of that aid and support during the war to drive out the Soviets.

    Everything I have read suggests to me that US analysts have completely failed to understand that HiG has a nominal alliance with the Taliban as full of tension and mistrust as that when the Communists and Nationalists in China formed an alliance to fight their Japanese invaders. Lots of the Guantanamo captives stood accused of being members of both the Taliban and HiG — not really possible for individuals captured in the fall of 2001, as the two groups were bitter enemies prior to the US invasion.

    The Bush policy that “You are either with us or against us” was costly as potential neutrals, or potential allies, could have been cultivated, so they would not ally with al Qaeda or the Taliban. If the desire for vengeance hadn’t been so strong, they might have been able to get the Taliban to agree to hand over bin Laden without a war.

    There are reasons to believe that the CIA was prepared to not only torture individuals who were known to be al Qaeda leaders, but also to torture their family members, even their young children. An affidavit submitted on behalf of Majid Khan repeats an account from Pakistani guards that when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s very young sons were captured, they were made to experience one of the tortures John Yoo described — being bound, hooded, and then having their fear of insects exploited by having bugs crawl all over their bodies.

    From some commentator’s writings Omar’s father confirmed his membership in al Qaeda by failing to make his way to US headquarters when the US invaded Afganistan, and saying, “I heard you guys were looking for me. I’d like to set the record straight, I am not a member of al Qaeda, but I will tell you everything I know about them.”

    In hindsight I think we know what would have happened to Omar’s father, Omar and his brothers if they had meekly turned themselves in. They all would have ended up spending years as guests of the CIA in its black sites. I think we know that Omar’s father would also have been tortured. Telling the truth was no defense against being tortured, as we know from the record of Abu Zubaydah and Ibn al Sheikh al Libi. Teling the truth would have been no defense as the US policy seems to have been so long as the captives say they are telling us the truth voluntarily, we won’t torture them. But, when they say they have told us everything they know then we will torture them, to confirm what they were saying, because we are sure that what they said was the truth was incomplete, or contained lies.

    The record of the Bush administration, and the US intelligence establishment, is that they had their preferred narrative, and no amount of facts could shake it.

    I think the CIA would have considered torturing Omar and his brothers as well — possibly in front of their father, as an extra inducement to get him to spout their preferred narrative.

    Could the Khadr family have been kept neutral? Could Omar’s father have been convinced to return to safety, in Canada, where even if he had some sympathy for bin Laden, he couldn’t make any trouble?

    I am afraid that the well justified fear of torture pushed potential neutrals, to ally with the Taliban and al Qaeda.

    Some accounts claim that Omar’s father had his own army to call upon, that all the orphan boys he had raised in the previous decade would have voluntarily served as his soldiers once they were adults. I strongly suspect that this was nonsense, and that the orphan boys’ loyalty would be to their uncles and grandfathers, to their extended families, and to their tribe, not to a foreigner, even if he ran an orphanage they lived in, for a time.

    On the other hand Omar’s father is described as a member of one of the anti-US Shuras. This suggests he did have some kind of background to justify a leadership role.

    Abduraham Khadr explained that his parents sent him to the Khaldan camp because every boy in Afghanistan knew how to handle a rifle. I think most people would think the rules for running an organization that had charitable status in Canada would have precluded Omar’s father from providing the boys in his orphanage with any marksmanship training. But, if Abdurahman was correct, I can understand his father arranging for the orphans to also have some marksmanship training. If marksmanship training was all it was, I would not agree that he was training an army of orphans.

  31. Paul Siemering says...

    Thanks Andy it has been a while huh? great interview on Democracy Now with another of our favorites, Sami al- Hajj

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent analysis, arcticredriver. Thanks. One of many comments made by you that could easily have been turned into a self-standing article.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear, Paul. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I will.

  34. Central Park 5: Over Again « Translation Exercises says...

    […] like Omar Khadr, as Andy Worthington notes, was picked up and interrogated at Guantanamo when he was 16. Below, […]

  35. Diane1976 says...

    To Andy. Thanks for all your work and dedication.

    To Articredriver, if it’s not too late.

    Much of my info on Khadr senior comes from Michelle Shephard and her book, Guantanamo’s Child.

    He came to Canada from Egypt, a professional, not seeming radical, met his wife, a Palestinian, continued education/worked. Came under influence of Muslim Brotherhood chapter at university.

    – Was deeply moved by Soviet war in Afganistan, began charity work to help refugees and orphans. Met Bin Laden. May have tried to act as coordinator among warring Afghan factions after the Russians left and the government fell. Socialized with Bin Laden but probably not in inner circle. Family of 5 kids.

    – Returned to Canada only for visits, medical care and fund raising. Lived various places including Iran, Pakistan, Afganistan. Became more religious. Picked up in relation to bombing of Egyptian embassy, Pakistan. Canada asked for fair trial. Pakistan released. Accused of steering funds to AQ but no charges or proof offered. Admired head of Northern Alliance but disagreed with politics. Wanted Islamic government for Afghanistan but disagreed with Taliban on things like education for girls. Put older boys in training camps.

    – Mother kept Omar with her, favourite, helped her with house and younger kids. Kept him away from fighting, even made him wear a burka to avoid Taliiban recruiters. Father taught kids to think of Canada as home and haven. Always a bit of an outsider because identified as Canadian. Surprised by 9/11, but justified or excused it to sons, one of whom disagreed. Originally admired in Canada but increasingly suspect. When US invaded he saw it the same as the Soviet invasion. He chose the AQ Taliban side.

    – Played coordinating role in war. Oldest son seems to have followed him. Second oldest always a rebel. He reluctantly sent Omar into the war, pressured by colleagues. Omar, at age 15, was glad to get away from home, join with men and boys in the war, believed as taught, that he was fighting against invaders, for Islam and Muslims, etc. Father failed to receive, or react quickly enough to, Pakistani warning of a strike on a town. He died and youngest son was paralyzed. AQ has since praised him. Second oldest son is a bit contradictory in his story about him. They always fought. Omar thinks of him as a good father, doesn’t seem to believe all people claim about him, but appears to deeply regret his childhood which led him into war and Gtmo, now prison in Canada.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Diane,
    That’s a very powerful precis of Omar’s case. You remind me that I have not written about him for a while. I hope he is being allowed regular visits from the people who care about him.

  37. arcticredriver says...

    Last week we learned that Vic Toews office interfered in Omar’s access to visitors. A journalist had requested a visit to interview Omar, and was turned down, being told this visit represent a security threat.

    It turned out, however, that while the standard procedure was for the Warden to make decisions as to whether visits represented threats on this occasion the decision came from the Minister’s office, with no explanation provided.

    The press speculation is that the real reason is Toew’s prejudice and/or malice against Khadr.

    The other news on Omar’s case is that the long suffering Dennis Edney is his lawyer again. Edney has initiated a challenge in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the same court that overturned Hamdan and al Bahlul’s convictions. They had been convicted of “material support for terrorism” — which was not a war crime when they were convicted.

    Ignorant readers left some surprisingly ignorant comments to the articles about this court challenge. Andy you can probably guess at some of these comments.

    Some readers condemned Edney as a lawyer collecting a huge pay day for defending Omar, when he has spent a fortune, possibly over $100,000, on airfare from Miami to Guantanamo.

    Readers whined like crazy over the expense to Canada of allowing Khadr to appeal his conviction in Canadian courts, asking why the hell he didn’t appeal his conviction in a US court — apparently not having read the news articles carefully enough to realize he was appealing in a US court

    Some readers suggested if his conviction was overturned he should be returned to Guantanamo!

    On the other hand, when several papers published editorials criticizing Toews for censoring Omar, most of the readers who commented there had positive comments.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s a great analysis of the situation, arcticredriver. I intend to write abut Omar again soon – hopefully next week – so I’ll make sure to include the information about Vic Toews blocking visitors, which I hadn’t heard about, although it doesn’t surprise me, as Toews really does sound like a nasty piece of work.

  39. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, I thought you and your readers might be interested in this article about the recent decision to bar journalists from interviewing Omar. Monia M, the writer, is Maher Arar’s wife — a Canadian engineer who had immigrated from Syria as a teenager — only to have Canada betray him to the USA, who directed his torture back in Syria.

    She was interviewed extensively, when he was still in custody, and is a good speaker. She ran for Parliament.

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I had missed that. The mission to demonize Omar continues in an unrelenting manner, then. Can’t let him speak on the phone, because he might somehow be able to turn it into an act of terrorism. Furiously hide the truth – that he might talk about how he was abused by his own government, and by the Americans.

  41. Bob Powelson says...

    Omar Khadr’s only claim for sympathy is that he was “only” 15 when captured. That is old enough not to be a child soldier.

    He should not only be held as long as possible but he should be charged in Canada with treason.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    I respectfully disagree, Bob. Read the Optional Protocol on the rights of children in armed conflict, to which the Canadian government is a signatory. Here’s Amnesty International’s view:

  43. arcticredriver says...

    Here is breaking news — good news. Omar has been transferred to Edmonton.

    This is good news for several reasons:
    * His main lawyer, Dennis Edney, lives in Edmonton;
    * The young professor who has been leading him through that personalized correspondence program also lives in Edmonton;
    * The press reports say he will no longer be held in solitary confinement, so he can start participating in the regular rehabilitation programs which are prerequisites for parole. These would probably be in his interest even if his US appeals overturn his conviction before he is granted parole.

    CTV News asserts that being 3000 kilometers from his family in Toronto is also a positive development for him.

    Michelle Shephard writes he will still be in maximum security:

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the news, arcticredriver. We are slowly getting closer to the moment when Omar will finally be a free man.

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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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