During the administration of Tony Blair as Prime Minister of Britain, he was sometimes referred to as the ‘Yankee Poodle,’ due to the constant and humiliating spectacle he made of himself with his obvious adoration of U.S. President George W. Bush.
Now, it seems, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has assumed Mr. Blair’s role. In no way is this more blatant than the shocking, tragic case of Omar Khadr.
Mr. Khadr is one of the inmates in the Cuban-based U.S. torture chamber known as Guantanamo. He arrived there from Afghanistan, where he was captured by U.S. soldiers in a house from which a hand grenade had been flung, killing a U.S. soldier. At the time of his capture and incarceration in that hell-hole, the American government evidently believed him to be an ‘enemy combatant.’ When captured, Mr. Khadr was fifteen years old.
It was apparently of no importance to Mr. Bush that Mr. Khadr was a minor at the time of his arrest, that at least one other ‘enemy’ soldier was alive in the building when Mr. Khadr was captured, thus making it at least ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that Mr. Khadr was guilty of throwing the grenade. Nor did it seem to matter that most nations believe children cannot be guilty of military crimes because they are not sufficiently cognizant to understand what joining the military means. It was enough for Mr. Bush that Toronto-born Mr. Khadr was fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan, and that his father is alleged to have helped finance al-Qaeda.
This week Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department detailed the torture that Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, has received at the hands of the U.S. government. While it is no longer news that the U.S. tortures its prisoners, the Harper government’s response to this horrific victimization of one of its own citizens is news. Mr. Harper, when asked about the situation, demonstrated nothing but loyalty to Mr. Bush.
“The previous government took a whole range, all of the information, into account when they made the decision on how to proceed with the Khadr case several years ago,” said Mr. Harper. Like Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the decision to crucify Jesus Christ, Mr. Harper said the decision to allow Mr. Khadr to be tortured was made by someone else. That may be the case, but Mr. Harper is now Prime Minister, and he can make a different decision.
What would it take, one might ask, to get Mr. Khadr released from Guantanamo and returned to Canada? What complex diplomatic channels would have to be navigated, what hoops jumped through, what concessions made by Canada? University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran has the answer: a single telephone call. Said Mr. Attaran:
“Without exception, every other leader of a Western country has got their citizens out of Guantanamo.”
So why does Mr. Harper not make that call? Why, when Mr. Bush ‘Yo Harper’d’ him at the G8 Summit this past week did he not request Mr. Khadr’s release? What is so frightening about a now-21-year-old young man who has experienced six years of unspeakable torture that Mr. Harper is willing to let him continue to suffer beyond comprehension at the hands of U.S. torturers? Why has every other Western nation rescued their citizens from Guantanamo, but Mr. Harper is content to let a citizen of his nation be tortured there?
Every Canadian citizen should be thankful that Mr. Harper was not Prime Minister when the U.S. and it’s so-called ‘Coalition of the Drilling’ (oops! we meant ‘willing’) embarked on Operation Iraq Liberation (O.I.L). Had that been the case, Canadian soldiers would not only be dying in Afghanistan, but in Iraq also. The Prime Minister at that time, Jean Chrétien, was not quite so willing to heel when Mr. Bush snapped his fingers and promised him a treat for being a good doggie. Mr. Harper, however, salivating over any positive association with Mr. Bush, apparently does not want to displease the master by acting as Canadian Prime Minister and working on behalf of Canadian citizens. So while he can be humiliated in Japan as Mr. Bush, an embarrassment to all thinking U.S. citizens, bellows ‘Yo Harper’ to him, he is not willing to alleviate the appalling physical and mental suffering that Mr. Khadr is now experiencing and has experienced for six years.
Mr. Harper is increasingly acting to please Mr. Bush. Last month the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion urging the Harper government to allow U.S. military deserters who have fled to Canada to remain there. By a 137 – 110 vote, the House supported having the Canadian government “immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members . . . to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada.” This motion was supported by three of the four parties that have seats in the Canadian Parliament: the Liberals, New Democratic Party, and Bloc Quebecois. Only Mr. Harper’s Conservatives opposed it.
One may recall that Mr. Bush was appointed president in 2000 after losing the majority vote. Mr. Harper’s minority government can be seen as a similar situation. Mr. Bush now contends with a spineless Democratic Congress. Mr. Harper apparently contends with the spineless Liberal, New Democratic and Bloc Quebecois parties. Mr. Bush appeared to care little for the will of the U.S. voter during his entire presidency. Mr. Harper seems to be emulating him by ignoring this motion from the House of Commons. Why bother to do what the people want when you can hobnob with the U.S. president?
That the U.S. can torture its prisoners should not surprise anyone; the nation has long hidden behind a façade of morality that only masked injustice and inequality since the its founding. What is shocking is that the Canadian government could sink to the same level; why it wants to emulate an imperial nation with elections as legitimate as any banana republic; that tortures its political prisoners (that it even has political prisoners is shocking enough); that sends its soldiers to die in wars waged only to control the world’s oil supply, that listens in on the private conversations of its citizens; that erodes what precious few rights its citizens have in the false name of ‘fighting terrorism’ is a question that simply defies any answer.
There is little evidence that anything will ever change significantly in the U.S.; the current candidate of ‘change,’ Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, basically represents business as usual, although the last eight years were extreme. But Canada does not have the same bloody history as its neighbor to the south. The current blemish, horrifying as it is, could be an anomaly. For U.S. soldiers who recognize the crimes the U.S. commits daily in Iraq, and for Canadians who may find themselves on the wrong side of U.S. reactionary politics, a return to reason in Canada would be a great benefit. It cannot happen soon enough.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.