In this pentagon-approved photograph of a sketch by artist Janet Hamlin, Canadian detainee Omar Khadr looks on during his trial in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Oct. 27, 2010. (Supplied)
It really couldn’t have played out any other way.
Omar Khadr was never going to come back to Canada under a deal with the United States unless his trial had either acquitted him or convicted him. Last Monday Khadr plead guilty, Sunday he was sentenced to 40 years and will serve eight years under his plea deal.
Much of the criticism of this situation will be laid at the feet of the Harper government but we should all remember that Omar Khadr was a resident of Guantanamo Bay prison camp for eight years, more than three of those years were served while Canada was governed by the Liberal party.
Why did the Liberals no lift a finger to spring Khadr?
My theory has always been that Khadr was a very personal and political issue for Jean Chretien who was still in office when Khadr was arrested and transferred to Gitmo. Chretien you may recall sprung Omar’s father Ahmed Said Khadr from Pakistani custody by appealing directly to the then Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
Ahmed Khadr was released and went on to finance Osama bin Laden. After that I doubt Chretien would do much to help the Khadr clan.
When the Paul Martin Liberal government took over they stuck to the same line. Even with human rights heavy weights like Irwin Cotler in the cabinet, Martin’s government changed nothing in relation to Canada’s official stand on Khadr. In fact it was under the Martin government that the Canadian government violated Khadr’s rights.
The CSIS interviews that the Supreme Court of Canada found to be a Charter violation happened during the Martin government.
In a 2008 interview with CBC Radio, Cotler was asked what he had personally done about Khadr’s situation. The answer in essence was that he had done nothing.
“As I say, I mean, you abide by Cabinet’s decisions and, you know, the government took the decision it did,” he said.
Cotler wasn’t alone in defending that decision.
Speaking with various media outlets in November of 2005 Liberal MP Dan McTeague who was still in charge of Canadian abroad had this to say:
“The charges against Omar Khadr are very serious and they come after nearly four years in incarceration in detention in Guantanamo Bay. Our take on this of course is to ensure that he is being treated humanely.”
Now of course McTeague has a different take on the matter. Here’s what he told Post Media right after Khadr’s sentence was announced.
“He should be returned to Canada and the case reviewed under the kaleidoscope of Canadian law, not by a special military tribunal at a remote military base on some island in the Caribbean.”
Other leading Liberals have had interesting views on Gitmo that don’t square with where they are now. Consider what Michael Ignatieff thought of the prison camp back in 2002 when he was speaking with Macleans.
“What I would say is missing from that debate is two facts. One is that if these prisoners weren’t in Guantanamo, and if they had been in the custody of the Northern Alliance, they would probably be dead. Secondly, these are dangerous individuals. I don’t regard their treatment as some example of the basic brutality and immorality of the American empire.”
There have been several attempts to claim that Omar Khadr is a child soldier and therefore should not have been incarcerated at all. Of course had Khadr been captured in January 2002 instead of in July of that year Canada would not have recognized him as such at all. It was only in February 2002 that Canada signed the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child that changed the definition of child soldier from under 15 to under 18.
If you accept that Khadr was a child soldier and should have been released from Gitmo and returned to Canada the question then was, what to do with him?
The normal course in dealing with child soldiers is to return them to their parents so they can reintegrate into society. Well, judging by Khadr’s family the only reintegration that would have resulted in was with al-Qaeda.
Khadr’s parents turned him into the boy that was found bloody, wounded and willing to die for his cause. Giving him back to her was never an option if you had Omar’s best interests and the best interests of Canada at heart.
There was a laughable plan promoted by people that should know better to get Khadr repatriated to Canada under certain conditions including restrictions on where he could live, work and worship. The backers of this plan promised that a nice couple would take him in, that he would get a job, that he would attend a nice progressive mosque.
From a Charter rights perspective I fail to see how this would have been an improvement.
Since Khadr could never have faced any charges here the government would have no right nor ability to tell a free man where he could live or worship and to attempt to do so would have been a major rights violation against Khadr.
Has the Harper government done any better on the Khadr file?
If you view Khadr as a victim the honest answer has to be no, they haven’t done any better nor have they done any worse.
And in the end, it couldn’t have played out any other way.
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