by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 6, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1438)
Exactly 15 years to the day (July 27, 2002 to July 8, 2017), Omar Khadr’s long and tortuous ordeal came to an end. It was a bitter-sweet victory: while the Canadian government offered a formal apology and paid $10.5 million in compensation for what he had suffered, it could not recover the years he had lost as a result of his illegal detention in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay under torture for more than 10 years.
Immediately after the deal was known, the racists and bigots led by the mean-spirited Conservatives launched a crusade against Omar Khadr. Frozen in their prejudices, they refuse to see or acknowledge the reality that Khadr was a child in a war zone; that he was badly tortured and abused and his fundamental rights were trampled upon, and that confessions were extracted from him under torture.
For these racists and bigots, Khadr is a “convicted killer.” Never mind that the military tribunal that “convicted” him has been roundly condemned internationally as being no more than a kangaroo court. Besides, Khadr was given an impossible choice: plead guilty as charged and get a chance to leave Guantanamo Bay after one year or spend the rest of his life in the torture chamber locked up as an animal in a steel cage.
There are still nearly scores of detainees at Gitmo, all but forgotten by the rest of the world. These people have not been charged with any crime, much less convicted even by the kangaroo military court. But they are still locked up in cages simply because America as an outlaw nation can get away with it.
This is what leaders of the Conservative Party of Canada are relying on. Far from being concerned about the well-being of a Canadian citizen, born in Toronto, who was tortured and abused while still a child, they are breast-beating for Tabitha Speer, the widow of Christopher Speer who was killed during the July 2002 firefight in Ayubkhel village in eastern Afgha-nistan where Khadr was captured in a badly wounded state. And the Conservatives are using this story to raise funds for the widow as well as for themselves. Why did they wait for 15 years before they discovered Speer’s widow? Extreme cynicism and racism are what guide the Conservatives.
The precise details of the day when Khadr was shot and badly wounded are still murky but what can be pieced together after 15 years when the story has undergone many revisions is as follows. American occupation troops came upon a house in the village and sent two Afghan soldiers ahead of them. Both were shot dead. The Americans then called for massive air support as well as some 100 soldiers, who attacked the compound with 500 mm cannons as well as heavy artillery. When the shooting stopped, everyone inside the house except Khadr was dead. American paramedic, Sergeant Christopher Speer was also killed by a grenade.
There is absolutely no evidence that Khadr was responsible for throwing the grenade that killed Speer. The first report prepared by Major Randy Watt, senior US officer at the scene (a day after the firefight, July 28, 2002) said they killed the shooter who threw the grenade and captured Khadr, who did not throw the grenade.
The American story continuously evolved over the years ultimately accusing Khadr of throwing the grenade that killed Speer. Getting killed in war is in any case an occupational hazard for soldiers. Under what law does it become a crime, especially when the soldier of an invading army is killed?
Khadr does not clearly remember what happened on that fateful day. He also does not remember whether he ever threw the grenade and continued to deny doing so in the early years. The Canadian daily, the Toronto Star published classified photos that showed Khadr buried in rubble, face down, when Speer was killed.
There is further circumstantial evidence that upholds Khadr’s story. And circumstantial evidence is all we have to go by. The shrapnel recovered from Speer’s body matched grenades used by American soldiers. The Taliban were using grenades left over from the Soviet occupation era (1979–1989). Thus Speer was most likely killed by a grenade tossed by one of his own. Such details, however, are of little consequence to the racists and bigots in the Conservative Party. It is led by a newly minted leader Andrew Scheer, a younger version of Stephen Harper but no less nasty.
When captured in Ayubkhel village barely alive, Omar Khadr was only 15 and thus a child soldier. He should have been treated differently; the law requires that he should have been helped as a child soldier and rehabilitated. Canada is a signatory to the Convention on the Right of the Child. Instead he was left with two gaping holes in his frail body, the result of being shot twice in the back, the bullets piercing his body.
One bullet narrowly missed his heart or today he would be a forgotten footnote like many others in America’s bloody war on the Afghans. Even in his badly wounded state, an American soldier wanted to shoot and kill him but a paramedic convinced the trigger-happy soldier to back off.
Omar was taken to Bagram airbase near Kabul. His long, tortuous ordeal began once he regained consciousness. Accused of being a “terrorist,” his American captors tortured him mercilessly. They would force him to sit up while his feet were chained to the bed. With his wounds still raw, he was held in these extremely painful positions for extended periods during interrogations. He was their prize catch: he and his family had lived in the same compound as Osama bin Laden. He was considered a high value individual who would provide intelligence data of immense value after being subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (aka torture).
In October 2002, with his wounds still raw, he was chained to the floor of a C-130 transport plane and flown non-stop for 15 hours to Guantanamo Bay. Upon arrival, his limbs were totally numb; he was pushed out of the back of the plane falling onto the tarmac. He was dragged in chains to a steel cage that the Americans called a cell.
His interrogation under torture began immediately. Every American guard considered it his patriotic duty to torture Khadr. He was after all a “terrorist” and neither deserved a trial or mercy. He was subjected to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, held in extremely stressful positions, chained to the floor or the ceiling and even held in fetal position often urinating on himself. The guards would then force him to wipe the floor with his body. Even dogs were set upon him, scratching his wounds with their claws. They even threatened to send him to Egypt where a sadistic guard would rape him.
In April 2003, a team of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials visited him in Guantanamo. Far from helping him, which he was entitled to as a Canadian citizen, they interrogated him and mocked him when he said he had been tortured. The CSIS agents then shared information extracted from him with his American captors. This was a clear violation of his fundamental rights, a fact recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in its ruling in 2010 when it said the Canadian intelligence officials had obtained evidence from Khadr under “oppressive circumstances” in April 2003. The court also agreed with Khadr’s lawyer, Dennis Edney to release the interrogation videos. These proved explosive.
Edney worked tirelessly, sacrificing his own law practice, to rectify what he saw as gross injustice to a child. It was also Edney who persuaded Khadr to enter the plea bargain to have a chance to leave Guantanamo otherwise he would spend the rest of his life in that hellhole. Initially, Khadr was unwilling to accept the plea bargain insisting he had not killed Speer.
Under the plea deal, Khadr would be sentenced to eight years in prison plus time already served. Of the eight years, he would spend one year in Gitmo and the rest in Canada. When the one-year term was over, the Harper-led Conservative government dragged its feet on getting him repatriated to Canada even though it was part of the deal. It took another year before Khadr could leave Gitmo. He was incarcerated in Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario.
Edney continued to work to have him transferred to Edmonton where he lives and has his law practice. Within an hour of being transferred to Edmonton, Khadr was badly beaten up by other inmates. Convicted Canadian criminals also wanted to exact their personal revenge of a “convicted terrorist” as do the racists and bigots in the rest of Canada. Edney meanwhile continued his efforts on behalf of Khadr.
On May 7, 2015, he was successful in getting Khadr’s bail application approved by the Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby. She rejected a bid by the Harper regime to have Khadr’s bail application denied that alleged he posed a threat to public safety. The racists and bigots wanted to keep him behind bars to complete his full eight-year sentence.
Justice Bielby said there was no clear evidence that Khadr posed a risk to public safety or that his release would cause irreparable harm to Canada’s international relations with the US, as then Canadian Justice Minister Steven Blaney claimed. A spokesman for the US State Department had already dismissed the suggestion on May 1 that Washington’s relations with Canada would be affected by Khadr’s release.
Dennis Edney offered personal sureties for Khadr’s bail and said he would keep the now grown-up man at his family home. “I look forward to Omar Khadr letting the Canadian public see who he is,” said Edney. “Today is a wonderful day for justice, it’s a start,” he announced to the media outside the Edmonton Courthouse.
The Harper regime, dominated by racists and bigots, fumed (as they are doing now after the Liberal-led Canadian government’s deal with Khadr based on sound legal advice). Two years earlier, legal experts as well as media outlets had welcomed Khadr’s release. The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s leading newspapers, castigated the federal government in an editorial (May 4, 2015) saying “The government’s shameful handling of this case leaves the unmistakable impression that it is manipulating a legal proceeding to curry favour with some of its core voters. Who’s the threat to Canada, exactly?”
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross had granted Khadr bail in April 2015 but the Harper regime appealed that decision. At his bail hearing on May 5, 2015, Justice Beilby granted a 48-hour stay to the government to argue its case but at the expiration of the deadline and without the Harperites providing any evidence for their outlandish claims except revealing their own deeply ingrained prejudices, she told the long-abused Khadr on May 7, 2015, “Mr. Khadr, you are free to go!”
Edney was scathing in his criticism of Harper saying publicly, “Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper does not like Muslims.” Edney went on, “He [Harper] wants to prove he’s tough on crime, so who does he pick on? A 15-year-old boy.” He also said it was shameful that Canada was alone among Western governments that refused to stand up for one of its citizens.
Both the Liberal governments that preceded the Harper regime and Harper himself, refused to help Khadr. His ordeal had begun when Jean Chretien was prime minister. In 2003, when Paul Martin took over, he too failed Khadr. Harper came to power in 2006 and his racist nature was exposed for all and sundry. His successors are no less racist, as has been evident from the statements of his successor Scheer as well as the Conservative Public Safety critic, Tony Clement.
They keep harping on Khadr being a “convicted killer” and blame the current Liberal government of secretly giving $10.5 million to him so that Speer’s widow could not lay her hands on the money after winning a $134 million law suit in a Utah court. What these racists and bigots conveniently ignore is that the so-called tribunal that “convicted” Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay was a sham. And the Utah court that “awarded” Tabitha Speer the huge sum did not meet the minimum standards of justice. Khadr was not there to defend himself.
Here is further proof that the Americans act as outlaws. Aware that Khadr’s conviction could be challenged in a proper court of law and expose the American regime for violating his fundamental rights, as part of his plea deal they forced Khadr to agree to a statement of facts admitting to killing Speer, and promised never to seek forensic review of the evidence that might one day prove his innocence. He also agreed to permit the US government to destroy all evidence following sentencing.
If the Americans were so sure of their case — the same arguments that the Canadian Conservative fascists are relying on — why would they demand destruction of all evidence and prohibit Khadr from seeking forensic review of the evidence against him?
Khadr was “convicted” in a kangaroo court through a sham trial. It confirms that outlaws dominate the US regime. The entire Khadr episode and the manner in which the Conservative Party is exploiting it should cause deep worry for Canadian Muslims. After all, this party of fascists and bigots is the official opposition and enjoys support of 30% of the Canadian public. True, much of this support is concentrated in Alberta, the province of rednecks, but it is a source of deep worry even if Khadr has finally been exonerated and some restitution made to him for his long, tortuous ordeal.