Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wading Through The Hysteria

About five years ago, I wrote a blog entry about a book that had a great impact on my understanding of the child soldier. Here is an excerpt from it:
I suppose I might feel differently about Omar Khadr if I hadn't read a particular book, A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah. It provided indelible insights into both the realities of the child soldier's world and the possibilities of redemption and rehabilitation. It should be read by everyone who is quick to judge and condemn Khadr.

Now 31 years old, Beah, a very bright, articulate and talented writer effectively conveyed in his memoir the horror of his experiences as a child soldier, conscripted into the army at the age of 13 to fight the rebels in Sierra Leone, although the bloody, inhumane behaviour of each side made them virtually impossible to distinguish.

I suspect it is the kind of world that Kadhr is very familiar with, uprooted as he was from Canada by his fanatical father at a young age and moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan to become part of Al Qaeda’s jihad against the West.
Facts and research are probably our strongest weapons against the hysterical and the politically opportunistic. And the facts surrounding the Omar Khadr compensation for the violation of his Charter Rights while incarcerated in Guantanamo are readily available.

In discussing the outrage emanating from some quarters about Khadr, the Star's Shree Paradkar writes:
When it became known last week that Canada was to issue an apology worth $10.5 million to former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, a Canadian, it came to many as a no-brainer.

After all, it aligned with Canadian values of freedom, ethics and social justice.

Morality aside, it wasn’t as if the government had a choice.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Khadr three times after his lawyers took the case to court, and in 2010 had unequivocally stated that Canadian officials had violated Khadr’s human rights under the Charter and that his treatment “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

There was no chance of the government winning the $20 million civil suit Khadr’s lawyers had launched in 2004.
She goes on to us remind of some of the facts of Khadr's life:
It didn’t seem possible that any Canadians would look askance at making reparations with a man whose life has been shaped by repeated betrayals: his father Al-Qaeda fundraiser Ahmed Said Khadr who took him, an 8-year-old boy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, his mother Maha Elsamnah who supported this, the American military who instead of treating him as a child soldier (he was 15 when captured), detained, tortured and subjected him to an unfair trial, and Canada that — under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin’s Liberals and Harper’s Conservatives — abandoned him in the illegal hellhole that is Guantanamo Bay.
The Star's Michelle Shepherd, who wrote Guantanimo's Child and co-directed a documentary with the same title, can be considered an expert on the case. In today's Star, she also reminds us of some facts that the rabid right chooses to ignore:
... the main claim in Khadr’s $20-million civil suit is that Canadian officials violated his rights when they interrogated him in Guantanamo in 2003 and 2004, knowing he was a minor, without legal representation and had been subjected to torture.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 2010 said they had.
The firefight in which U.S. soldier and medic Speer was killed, perhaps by Khadr or perhaps by someone else, is not the issue, but there are some interesting facts surrounding it:
Medics (unarmed civilians) have always been considered “protected persons” in conflict. Since the drafting of the Geneva Conventions, killing a medic is punishable as a war crime. But that is not what the Pentagon considered Speer. [Indeed, he was a decorated soldier and the medic on his elite Delta Force team.] And it was not what Khadr was prosecuted for.
Khadr was charged under the Military Commissions Act, drafted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which introduced an offence called “murder in violation of the laws of war.” Despite the deaths of thousands of U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, Khadr remains the only captive charged with killing a soldier.
Also writing in the Star, Azeezah Kanji says,
It is “absolutely wrong” that the U.S. re-wrote the laws of war at Guantanamo to retroactively criminalize its enemies: a laws of war of international law, which forbids prosecuting people for criminal offences invented after the fact. Khadr was charged as a war criminal for allegedly killing American soldier Christopher Speer — but killing an enemy soldier in combat is not a war crime. Under the international laws of armed conflict, soldiers can be killed because they are allowed to kill.
Khadr was accorded all the vulnerabilities of being a soldier, but none of the privileges. As senior officials in the Obama administration pointed out at the time, if Omar Khadr could be convicted of war crimes for “murdering” Sgt. Speer, then so could the CIA for its drone operations in countries such as Pakistan. But this was victor’s justice, meted out only against the vanquished.
And here is one more fact that the ideologues, ranters and opportunists choose to ignore but bears repeating:
Canada’s compensation to Khadr is not an act of largesse; the Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly found that Canada violated Khadr’s rights, and the UN Convention Against Torture obliges states to provide recompense to victims of abuse. (The convention also requires states to prosecute officials complicit in torture, which Canada has so far failed to do.)
None of this will likely make any difference to those who see Omar Khadr as some kind of demon, but for the rest of us, i.e. those who seek to develop informed opinions rather than indulge in mindless screeds, these facts are really the heart of the matter.


  1. We live in a time when opinions are completely divorced from facts, Lorne. Even Ronald Reagan called facts "stubborn things."

    The Government of Canada is simply recognizing the truth of Reagan's observation.

    1. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, Owen, but people seem resistant to the indisputable nature of facts.

  2. It's the eternal struggle between justice and mob rule, Lorne. It is encapsulated in the old legal adage that "hard cases make bad law." People seize upon the inflammatory, what they see as outrageous, and try to have the law tailored to their emotion. Later,when they discover the breadth of the law's reach they yell "unfair" as they or a friend get swept up in it. That's why the law must be dispassionate, above the public fray. When that discipline is lost we quickly find we have no law.

    1. Some, it would seem, much prefer mob rule these days, Mound. We live in very sad times.