by Tahir Mahmoud (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1431)
Under pressure that followed a January 29th ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Canadian government has been forced to send a note to the US asking “not to use evidence collected by Canadian agents” in the prosecution of Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier captured in Afghanistan in July 2002. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said on February 16 that Ottawa had made the request in a formal note to Washington not to use such evidence. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said that Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated during repeated interrogations by Canadian officials. Nicholson said in a February 16th statement, “The government of Canada today delivered a diplomatic note to the Government of the United States formally seeking assurances that any evidence or statements shared with US authorities as a result of the interviews of Mr. Khadr by Canadian agents and officials in 2003 and 2004 not be used against him by US authorities in the context of proceedings before the Military Commission or elsewhere.”
Nicholson, however, refused to ask Washington to return Khadr to his country of birth, Canada, despite the Supreme Court ruling that Ottawa had violated his Charter rights. The Canadian government’s decision disappointed many people including the human rights organization, Amnesty International whose Canadian head, Alex Neve, called Nicholson’s response “profoundly disappointing.” He went on, “It does nothing to address the grave human rights violations Omar Khadr has experienced, including his plight as a child soldier, the torture and ill-treatment he has experienced, and the deeply unfair nature of the military commission process that still looms ahead.” Neve said, “The bottom line remains the same. The Canadian government is not prepared to stand up for Omar Khadr’s rights. That should be of concern to all Canadians.”
Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Canadian officials interrogated Khadr in 2003 and 2004 at the notorious American torture chamber otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay, an illegally occupied island in Cuba. Information and confessions extracted from him under such conditions were handed over to his US prosecutors. A foreign affairs official also questioned Khadr in 2004 despite being fully aware that US authorities had already subjected the boy to a regime of extreme torture including sleep deprivation that had lasted 21 days. Known as “frequent flyer program,” the torture was inflicted to make him less resistant to interrogation. Prior to such mistreatment, he had been held in stressful positions for prolonged periods, deprived of medication, threatened with dogs as well as sexual assault.
Captured in Ayubkhel village in eastern Afghanistan following a firefight between US forces and Taliban on July 27, 2002, Khadr was badly wounded. He was shot twice through the back, bullets piercing his frail body narrowly missing his heart. An American soldier on the scene wanted to kill him as Khadr lay in the dirt but paramedics intervened and managed to save the boy’s life who was barely 15 years old at the time.
The Americans have accused Omar Khadr of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier. Their initial allegations have since been refuted by evidence that shows that another person who was shot and killed by the Americans had thrown the grenade. Further, grenade fragments from the dead American soldier’s body belonged to an American-made grenade and not a Russian grenade that the Taliban used. Despite such evidence and the fact that Khadr was barely 15 making him a child soldier, both the Americans and the Cana-dians are refusing to honour his status as a child soldier that under the UN protocol is entitled to special protection, not prosecution in a kangaroo military court. The Canadian justice minister still insisted that Khadr was an “accused terrorist” and noted the now 23-year-old faced charges that included “murder, attempted murder and conspiracy.”
Khadr’s legal team filed on February 17th an emergency motion in Federal Court asking that it quash the decision by the federal government to ask the US government to refrain from using any evidence gathered by Canadian officials. Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Nathan Whitling described the government’s decision “patently unreasonable” remedy for violating Khadr’s charter rights. He went on, “This is a blatant violation of the principles of natural justice.”
Few people outside Canada would have heard of Khadr. His case, however, has important impliications both for Canada as well as internationally, especially in the treatment of child soldiers. Born in Toronto on September 19, 1986, Khadr was the fifth of six children born to Ahmed Saied Khadr and Maha. Egyptian-born Ahmed Saied was an engineer by profession who first lived in Toronto in 1977 and later moved to Ottawa. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, like most committed Muslims, he was also deeply affected by it. He started to work with Human Concern International, a Canadian Charitable Organization that helped raise funds for Afghan refugees, especially widows and orphans. Helping Afghans was popular at the time because the US and its Western allies supported it. This also motivated many Muslim regimes that wanted to remain in the good books of the US, to help. The US wanted to avenge its defeat of Vietnam by trapping the Russians in Afghanistan.
Many Western charities also joined the effort. Motivated by the desire to help the suffering Afghans, Ahmed Saied moved to Peshawar and then to Afghanistan. It is impossible not to have been moved by the suffering of Afghans, most of whom lived in terrible conditions in tents, at the mercy of handouts. Ahmed Saied busied himself with raising funds for Afghan refugees as well as for the jihad against Soviet occupation forces.
After the Soviet forces were driven out of Afghanistan in February 1989, the Afghans were abandoned. First branded as “rebels”, they were soon labelled as “terrorists” to be hunted and killed. During the US onslaught on Afghanistan in October 2001, the Khadr family moved to Pakistan. Ahmed Saied Khadr was killed by Pakistani forces in October 2003 in Waziristan. His youngest son, Abdulkareem, was shot in the spine during the same attack and is paralysed from the waist down. The other children — Abdurrahman, Abdul-lah and Omar — spent time in Afgha-nistan while their sister Zaynab stayed with her mother in Pakistan. Abdurrah-man was recruited by the CIA, sent to Bosnia to identify the Arab mujahideen there and later transported to Guantanamo Bay to build up his credibility. When released in 2004, he admitted to working for the CIA.
When first captured in Afghanistan, the badly-wounded 15-year-old Omar Khadr was moved to Bagram Airbase that quickly gained notoriety as a torture chamber. It was at Bagram that Sergeant Joshua Claus, a notorious American torturer, beat an Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar Khan, to death in April 2002. Suspended from the ceiling, Dilawar was mercilessly beaten by Claus on his legs using a thick wooden club. After several days of beatings during which the Americans would laugh as he screamed in pain, Dilawar died. The autopsy report said his legs were so badly shattered that they appeared “as if he had been run over by a truck.” Claus also tortured Khadr at Bagram.
Khadr’s interrogation began soon after he regained consciousness. While unable to walk because of his serious injuries, he was taken to the interrogation cell on a stretcher. Subjected to sleep deprivation, withdrawal of pain killing medication, lack of medical treatment for his life-threatening injuries and physical and psychological torture, Khadr was also threatened with rendition to a place where he would be raped.
In October 2002, Khadr was flown to Guantanamo Bay while shackled in a painful position with his hands tied behind his back and the chain then wound round his neck and ankles, unable to move for the entire 15-hour flight. His feet were chained to the floor of the plane. He was also blindfolded and ear muffs were placed on his ears to disorient him during the long flight. His bullet wounds were still fresh.
Guantanamo Bay brought more horrors. Apart from the killer and terrorist taunts, he was thrown in isolation for prolonged periods, stretching into months. The cell measured 10 feet by 6 feet and there was a crate that functioned as a toilet. Sometimes, his cell temperature was kept so low that he would nearly freeze; at other times, it was increased so much that it would be boiling hot. If his interrogators did not like the answers he gave, he would be made to stand for hours, chained to the cell gate with his face hooded. At other times, he was tied in the fetus position with his hands and feet tied together and left curled up on the cell floor. Food and medication were deliberately withheld and with his wounds still raw and some of the metal shrapnel pieces still embedded in his body slowly making their way out of the skin that is excruciatingly painful, he would be left to writhe in pain. On one particular occasion when the interrogators did not like his answers, he was tied to the floor in such a painful position and for so long that he urinated on himself. When the guards discovered this the next morning, they poured PineSol, a chemical disinfectant, over his entire body and then they dragged him like a mop to clean the floor. Such torture and degradation was and is routine in Guantanamo Bay.
Statements extracted under such conditions from a 15-year-old boy are to be presented in the military tribunal in Obama’s America to try him on charges of murder and terrorism. The Canadian government appears to concur with such mistreatment of its own citizen and miscarriage of justice.
What Khadr’s case indicates is the manner in which Western governments routinely violate their own laws when it comes to dealing with their Muslim citizens. As one lawyer on Khadr’s defence team said, if Bush were brought before the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, the prosecutor would have no trouble securing a guilty conviction against him. He might as well have added the names of such other war criminals as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and Dick Cheney, among others. These are people not only with the blood of innocent people on their hands, but they are also the real terrorists of the world today.
The sad truth is that the world does not operate on the basis of law, legality or morality; only the law of the jungle where might is right, applies. Those who are weak can expect no justice anywhere in a world dominated by the West.