Kept in Guantanamo: The case of Omar Khadr

Most days, I am so grateful for the technology that allows me to stay in touch while I’m living abroad.

However, some mornings, I still feel the distance. I feel the 8 hours time difference, when I need to talk to somebody, but I know my friends and family won’t be awake for another 6 hours, at least. And even then they’re getting up and going to work, so not even fully available to talk.

Like this morning, I got up and picked up the book I’m reading: Power Systems by Noam Chomsky. It’s not exactly light material, but hasn’t so far sparked strong emotions, until today, page 73:

“One of the most remarkable examples [of the dismissal of the Magna Carta, which governs a person’s right to fair trial, innocence until proven guilty.. etc.] is of Omar Khadr, the first Guantanamo case to come to a military commission – not a court – under Obama. The charge was that he had tried to resist an attack on his village by American soldiers when he was a fifteen-year-old boy. That’s the crime. A fifteen-year-old tries to defend his village from an invading army. So he’s a terrorist. Khadr had been kept in Guantanamo and, before that, Bagram in Afghanistan for eight years. I don’t have to tell you what Guantanamo is like. He finally came to a military commission, where he was given a choice: either plead not guilty and stay here forever or plead guilty and just spend another eight years in detention. This violates every international convention that you can think of, including laws on treatment of juveniles. Of course, it grossly violates any principle. He was fifteen. But there was no public outcry.

In fact, particularly striking in some ways is that Khadr is a Canadian citizen. Canada could extradite him and free him if it wanted to, but they didn’t want to step on the master’s toes.

A Canadian citizen. What the fuck?

Naturally I googled him to find out more, and I am sure that I’ve heard of the case before, likely through the advocacy work of Romeo Dallaire. But I’m looking at it today with fresh eyes, and by fresh, I actually mean blurry because I can hardly see through the tears. Cause this shit is fucked up.

It’s obvious from just the wiki page the whole thing is shady business. The reports of the time are contradictory, changing, and biased. For example:

February also saw the accidental release of a five-page “OC-1” witness report to reporters, which revealed that Khadr had not been the only survivor in the compound, as previously claimed, and that nobody had seen him throw the grenade. Officials insisted that the reporters all had to return their copies of the document or face expulsion from the hearings, but after a 90-minute standoff between reporters and military officials, it was agreed that they could retain their copies of the report, but had to redact three names from the report.

This is such clear evidence of cover up and tailoring what is said to indict this kid, who either a) did nothing, or b) defended himself when his compound was attacked on the ground with guns and grenades, and from the air with bombs! In what world would ANY act of self-preservation be viewed as “murder in violation of the laws of war”?!

And the sad answer is our world. In our world a 15 year old kid can be imprisoned and tortured for 10 years, being accused of throwing a grenade causing the death of an American soldier, while no records are given of the number of innocent civilians who were killed by the same American troops’ guns, grenades, and bombs.

The article continues to comment on the Canadian government’s unwillingness to repatriate Khadr, conducting many interrogations in his time in Bagram and Guantanamo, serving the US needs, instead of aiding Khadr in any way. The accounts of his treatment are beyond words.

Thankfully though, since the writing of Power Systems, Khadr has been successfully repatriated back to Canada, largely thanks to non-governmental advocacy groups, and what looks to be a lot of work done by Hillary Clinton and her staff (go HC!). In 2015, he was actually released on bail. He’s engaged. When you google his name, images pop up of this gentle-looking smiling man.

So at the end of the day, we can look at this as a happy ending. But half of this man’s life has been spent being tortured and terrorized, for US political games. He was diagnosed with PTSD while in Guantanamo, with high risk of suicide.

So this is what humanity does to people. What’s wrong with us? How can we call ourselves civilized, if this is what we do? How can the Western world dare to point fingers at the “backwards” ways of any other community, when this is what we keep hiding in our own backyard?

I feel so sad and frustrated right now. Only 5 more hours until somebody wakes up…

One thought on “Kept in Guantanamo: The case of Omar Khadr

  1. Nice to see someone else talk about political issues on a travel blog, I was beginning to think it was only me. Surely one of the points of traveling is to learn about what’s going on in the world? I like to think travel helps teach us to be more compassionate about different people but judging by the travel blogging community I must be hopelessly wrong. Keep up the good work.


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