Ten years ago Omar Khadr was a kid in the Afghanistan theatre of war. Now, instead of a rehabilitated child soldier he's a convicted war criminal - or "terrorist" as his native Canadian government prefers to call the man it has been forced to repatriate.
The last Western detainee has left Guantanamo.
He has been repatriated to his native homeland - Canada.
The Canadian Government is not happy, but has finally run out of ways to delay, stall, obstruct or just plain out deny the reality that Omar Khadr has the right to be returned to Canada.
Khadr’s case however is not simply one of a convicted convict going home.
Khadr was 15 years old and severely wounded when, in 2002, he was captured from the battlefields of Afghanistan by the Americans and thrown into Bush’s Cuban-based gulag.
Fifteen years old.
A 15-yr-old, indoctrinated by his father who took him to a terrorist training camp in Kabul when he was eleven.
The world calls these kids child soldiers.
The definition of a child soldier, according to Child Soldiers International, the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups, United Nations and others is:
“...any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities” .
Numerous films and documentaries are made based on the unspeakable horrors and atrocities child soldiers are subjected to, and, indoctrinated, terrorized and threatened themselves, commit against others - often their own family.
Former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, the rapper from Southern Sudan, is now a rising star in the American music world. He was toting an AK-47 from the age of eight, when he learned to kill people in the name of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He and others are the darlings of ‘free world’ because they are testament to faith in rehabilitation - and perhaps assuage the guilt of those left to watch, and arguably abet, from afar.
But Khadr’s baby-face and classic child soldier narrative didn’t trigger any warm fuzzies or notions of rehabilitation for a kid caught in a vicious adult war.
A cynic could possibly make a link with the particular theatre Khadr found himself in at the bidding of adults.
In that theatre, the invading US (and allied) forces were/are allowed to roam the country killing and capturing anyone they deem an enemy, terrorist, or whatever other self-justification summoned to excuse the death and destruction in the name of the military-industrial complex - a.k.a. the War on Terror.
The ‘enemy’ or ‘terrorist’ was/is not allowed to shoot back in defence of his or her homeland. Warning: don’t try it Stateside.
And so Khadr, aged 15, became the first and only captured ‘enemy’ to be charged with murder in the theatre of war!
In the midst of a fire-fight between Afghans and US troops, Khadr purportedly threw a grenade which killed a US army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer. ‘Purportedly’ because that is what Khadr finally plead guilty to after years in Guantanamo. During that time he was tortured for testimony - threatened with rape, denied adequate medical attention for his many injuries suffered during the firefight, deprived of sleep and kept in stress positions.
His guilty plea to a military commission was in order to avoid a 40 year sentence. He said he threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, admitted to attempting to murder in violation of the rules of war, supporting terrorism, spying and conspiracy - at 15 he’d know the legal niceties of such war crimes for sure.
The guilty plea cut his sentence to eight more years on top of the ten he’s already been locked up for, one year was served in Guantanamo and the rest lie before him in Canada where he’s eligible to apply for parole in another year.
Khadr presents for Harper’s right wing government, an unavoidable evil, and so was slipped quietly into the country last weekend. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced the “convicted terrorist” and “supporter of Al Qaeda” is back and in a maximum security facility.
The entire process, from the capture to the repatriation, and no doubt beyond, has been a Canadian national disgrace.
As the extraordinary humanitarian and former soldier, now Canadian Senator Roméo Dallaire has explained, the Harper government has so demonized Khadr it is difficult to imagine how he will ever be rehabilitated. Dallaire - commander of the infamous UN mission that failed Rwanda in 1994 (Shake Hands With The Devil) has been adamant throughout that Khadr is a child soldier and illegally and inappropriately imprisoned.
He believes the Americans lost patience with Canada’s stalling and finally forced the issue to alleviate their own discomfort.
Tellingly, senior Canadian Ministers have been busy making up excuses for their volte-face claiming Khadr had to be accepted because Obama is closing Guantanamo.
While it would be encouraging for Obama to keep that 2008 election promise on the eve of 2012’s election, there are no signs of the remaining 160 prisoners being shuffled out.
Khadr is, obviously, no longer the fresh faced kid who was captured. However if Canada had lived up to its responsibilities to this citizen, Khadr the kid would have been out of Guantanamo and probably well through a rehabilitation programme for child soldiers.
For now he’s the subject of extreme domestic public debate.
He is demonized to assuage conservatives who sarcastically refer to him as an accidental terrorist. He’s lamented to palliate liberals who fear further executive meddling in what is now a judicial process.
Perhaps the nature of Khadr’s return says it all. Canada refused to fetch him in any plane, let alone one with the maple leaf on its tail. The Americans did the honour...under the cover of darkness of course.