Child soldier, Omar Khadr, was repatriated to Canada ten years after being captured by American forces in Afghanistan and held in the notorious black prison in Cuba. Gitmo, as it came to be known, has had a dark reputation for abuse. Khadr is the last person from the western powers to be sent to his home country.
While the circumstances surrounding Khadr’s capture and whisked to Guantanamo prison are muddy and the evidence given against him changed later, one thing is without debate. Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured and charged with the death of a US medic during a firefight in Afghanistan. By the UN definition, he was a child soldier at the time. Canada is a signatory to the accord on child soldiers.
After eight years in Gitmo, Khadr confessed to the killing of the medic with the promise that he would be given a further eight years in prison and the chance of repatriation to Canada to serve out his time. His alternative, if he didn’t confess, was to spend life in prison. I don’t know about you, but given those circumstances, I would have confessed to the Earth being flat, or the moon being made out of green cheese and I did in fact see a cow jumping over it.
Both many Americans and our Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, have referred to Khadr as a convicted criminal. It may be splitting hairs, but he was not convicted, he confessed. Both Americans and many Canadians conveniently ignored that the young man was a child soldier.
Perhaps much of the hostility and denial of justice in this case has been because of Khadr’s toxic family. His father was a fund raiser for Al Qaeda and was killed. His mother is outspoken about the Canadian way of life while accepting residence and medical care for her disabled son.
If Canadian citizens want to think of Canada as a just society, then we have to extend justice to those we don’t like equally to those we do. A child soldier from Somalia is no more worthy of our sympathy and rehabilitation than a child abused by his parents and turned into a willing killer.
It may be that Omar Khadr will not become a good Canadian citizen. After ten years in a black prison, he must harbour some resentment against his country that allowed him to remain there and delayed his repatriation. We can hope.