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 »

The Long Pursuit of Accountability for the Bush Administration’s Torture Program

In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.

Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).

Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Finally, Omar Khadr Leaves Guantánamo and Returns to Canada

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.

Eleven months late, the Canadian government has finally signed the paperwork authorizing the return to Canada from Guantánamo of Omar Khadr. A Canadian citizen, he was just 15 years old when he was seized, in July 2002, after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, an alleged associate of Osama bin Laden, and subsequently flown to Guantánamo, where he was held for the last ten years.

As a juvenile — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — Khadr should have been rehabilitated rather than being subjected to various forms of torture and abuse, 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. Instead, the US put him forward for a war crimes trial, on the unproven basis that he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier at the time of his capture, and the Canadian government abandoned him, even though courts up to and including the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that his rights had been violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantánamo. In 2010, 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On Omar Khadr’s 26th Birthday, Supporters Call for his Return to Canada from Guantánamo

Sign the petition!
Watch the video!
Post your own “Omar Khadr is Welcome Here” photo!

The imprisonment of Omar Khadr, just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, has always been a disgrace of colossal proportions. The US and the Canadian government have both ignored their obligations to rehabilitate rather than punish children caught up in armed conflict, and the Obama administration then arranged for him to agree to a plea deal in which he admitted that he had thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier prior to his capture, and was an alien unprivileged enemy belligerent whose actions constituted a war crime. It is by no means clear that Omar did in fact throw the grenade, although it is understandable that he agreed to the plea deal to be released from Guantánamo. As a result of the plea deal, announced at the end of October 2010, Omar received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served at Guantánamo, and the remaining seven in Canada.

Although it remains unforgivable that the US government arranged for a prisoner who was a child when captured to be regarded as a war criminal for being involved in combat during a war, and although it will be an indelible black mark against the Obama administration when the history books about this period are written, the baton of injustice has, for the last eleven months, passed back to Canada, where the government of Stephen Harper is refusing to honor its part of the plea deal, according to which Omar would have returned to Canada last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Omar Khadr from Guantánamo! Please Support Senator Roméo Dallaire’s Campaign

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.

But first, please sign the petition initiated by Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire, urging Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to sign the paperwork to bring Omar Khadr home from Guantánamo, as agreed in October 2010. This petition has gone viral, and hundreds of people have been signing it every hour. With your help, we can turn this petition into a torrent of concern and indignation that the Canadian government — and the mainstream media — cannot ignore.

Just last week, we encouraged you, our readers, to sign a petition calling for the Canadian government to secure the release from Guantánamo of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner who was supposed to have been returned to Canada last November, as part of a plea deal he agreed to in October 2010.

If you’ll forgive us for the intrusion on your time, we’d now like to ask you to sign another, similar petition, initiated by Senator Roméo Dallaire, a former Lieutenant-General in the Canadian Army, described on his website as a devoted humanitarian. The founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, a project aimed at eradicating the use of child soldiers, Senator Dallaire recently appeared at a press conference in Ottawa to urge the Canadian government to honor its part of the deal, and to bring Omar home. Read the rest of this entry »

Bring Omar Khadr Home from Guantánamo: Please Sign the Petition to the Canadian Government

Update July 13: Senator Romeo Dallaire has a new petition calling for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to sign the paperwork to bring Omar Khadr home. Please sign it!

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.

Please sign this petition calling for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to secure Omar Khadr’s return from Guantánamo. 

Hosted by Change.org, this petition can be signed by anyone anywhere around the world who cares about bringing to an end the long injustice to which Omar Khadr has been subjected.

*****

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we share the disdain that decent people everywhere feel regarding the Canadian government’s refusal to honor the terms of a plea deal that Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen still imprisoned at Guantánamo, agreed to in October 2010, when he pleaded guilty to war crimes in exchange for a promise that he would receive an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo before his return to Canada. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Canadian Professor Who Has Been Teaching Omar Khadr at Guantánamo

Last week, lawyers for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and former child prisoner who has been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly ten years, held a press conference in Ottawa to complain about the Canadian government’s failure to honor a deal that was supposed to guarantee his return to Canada eight months ago.

It is to be hoped that the press conference has succeeded in putting pressure on the government — and particularly on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — to stop procrastinating, and to secure Khadr’s return, as agreed in the plea deal he signed at his military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, when he was told that he would serve one more year at Guantánamo, and then be returned to Canada to serve the last seven years of an eight-year sentence.

At the press conference, John Norris, one of Khadr’s Canadian civilian lawyers, explained that his client was “trying to pursue an education as part of his rehabilitation,” and his two US military lawyers — Lt. Col. Jon Jackson and Maj. Matthew Schwartz — explained that they had spent hundreds of hours with him, and described him as “an intelligent young man” who is quick to learn and has a “love of learning.” 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

Bring Omar Khadr Home: His Lawyers Demand His Return to Canada from Guantánamo

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr to Return to Canada from Guantánamo by End of May

Finally, five months after the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr was supposed to leave Guantánamo, to be returned to Canada as a result of a plea deal agreed in October 2010, it appears that he may be back in the country of his birth by the end of May.

The delay has been a disgrace, as the plea deal was supposed to guarantee that Khadr, who is now 25, would be held for one more year at Guantánamo, and would then return to Canada, to serve seven more years in prison, although it is widely expected that he “will serve only a short time in a Canadian prison before being released,” as London Free Press described it, primarily because lawyers will be able to point out the court rulings in which judges ruled that the Canadian government had persistently violated Khadr’s rights.

That first year of Khadr’s post-plea deal detention ended on October 31 last year, but he was not repatriated from Guantánamo, primarily, it seemed, because of an unwillingness to speedily facilitate his return on the part of the Canadian authorities, who have a dreadful record when it comes to doing anything to secure his return since his capture at the age of 15, when he was severely wounded, in Afghanistan in July 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

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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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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