Omar Khadr: Victim of US and Canadian Injustice


The gross, unspeakable injustices to which Canadian citizen Omar Khadr has been subjected, by both the United States and his own government, are far beyond appalling. Arrested at the age of 15, and accused by the U.S. of killing a U.S. soldier, Mr. Khadr spent ten years in the U.S’s. Cuban-based torture center at Guantanamo. International law categorizes any ‘soldier’ under the age of 18 as a ‘child soldier’, who cannot be charged with a war-related crime. Both the U.S. and Canada chose not to adhere to international law.

At the time of his capture, the teenage Mr. Khadr sustained extremely serious injuries, including two gunshot wounds through his chest, multiple broken bones, and shrapnel splattered all over his body, costing him the sight in one eye. Yet his immediate medical treatment was lacking.

Once he regained consciousness about a week following his capture, he was detained at the Bagram air base, where he was tortured. This torture included the following:

* Being tied to a fence with his hands tied high above his head; due to his injuries, raising his hands at all was extremely painful;

* Being tied up with a bag secured tightly around his head, making breathing difficult, as attack dogs snarled and growled at him from inches away;

* Having cold water thrown over him;

* Forcing him, despite of, or perhaps because of, his injuries, to pile heavy water bottles together. Once he finished the task, his torturers knocked over the pile, and forced him to re-pile them.

Once transferred to Guantanamo, the torture only continued. One such method, as reported by Vox, is referred to as ‘the mop incident’. It is documented as follows:  Guards “pulled his arms and legs behind in a ‘bow’ position, until his limbs strained painfully at their sockets. This was known in the officially-sanctioned American torture guides as a ‘stress position,’ and victims often pass out from the pain. Over several hours, the guards contorted Omar into different stress positions, each time shoving him into a painful position on the ground. Eventually, inevitably, he urinated himself. MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body. Without altering his chains, they began dragging him by his feet through the mixture of urine and pine oil. Because his body had been so tightened, the new motion racked it. The MPs swung him around and around, the piss and solvent washing up into his face. The idea was to use him as a human mop. When the MPs felt they’d successfully pretended to soak up the liquid with his body, they uncuffed him and carried him back to his cell. He was not allowed a change of clothes for two days.”[1]

After a time, Canadians came to visit Mr. Khadr, and this initially brought him hope; finally, someone from his own country was going to help him. But that was not their goal, although viewing the films of that interrogation certainly indicated that the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Services) agents wanted him to think they were there to assist. But their motivation was only to help the U.S. build its case against him.

All this is horrific, and was condoned by two, supposedly-respected governments. First is the United States. The U.S. was bombing Afghanistan, a sovereign nation where it had no business being. The treatment that Mr. Khadr experienced at the hands of his U.S. captors is defined as torture by any definition, no matter how liberal one wishes to be with the word. He was only 15 years old; even one of the torturers at Bagram, Damien M. Corsetti, known as the ‘Monster’ and the ‘King of Torture’, later said this of Mr. Khadr. “He was a 15-year-old kid with three holes in his body, a bunch of shrapnel in his face. That was what I remember. How horrible this 15-year-old child looked.” Further, he described Mr. Khadr as an injured “child” detained in “one of the worst places on Earth.”

Yet the U.S. government saw him differently. Initial requests for information about Mr. Khadr’s incarceration, from the Director General of the Canadian Consular Affairs office, were not responded to. In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powel, a representative of the Consular Affairs office asked if Mr. Khadr was being well-treated; if he would have proper legal representation; if his status as a minor, as covered by the international conventions dealing with youths was recognized, and when Canadian officials would be able to have access to him. Mr. Powell’s response was that Mr. Khadr had killed a ‘fine young American’ and would be treated with the U.S. justice system. Apparently, Mr. Powell had determined that, without charge or trial, Mr. Khadr was guilty, and the U.S. ‘justice system’ would now administer the penalty in one of its foreign torture chambers.

Such behaviour is to be expected from the U.S. government, for which the rule of law is something only to be adhered to at its own convenience. Yet Canada, even under the government of Liberal Jean Chretien, did nothing to assist a Canadian citizen being tortured by a foreign government. Never did the government, under Mr. Chretien or his successor, Stephen Harper, request that this Canadian citizen, arrested as a child in violation of international law, be repatriated. Under Mr. Harper, the government even attempted to have Mr. Khadr’s bail revoked, and it is hoped that one of the new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first acts will be to drop that action, enabling Mr. Khadr to continue to live freely in Canada, and move on with his life.

In January of 2010, Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Mr. Khadr’s rights had been violated when he was interrogated by CSIS at Guantanamo in February of 2003. This was the most that the Canadian government ever did for him.

Journalist Andrew O’Hehir made this comment about Canada’s ignoring of Omar Khadr: “Khadr became a sort of ritual sacrifice by the Canadian government, an offering to its American allies and/or overlords.”

And it seems that that is what it was. With the wounds of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. kept fresh by an oil-lusting government, and no politician on either side of the border wanting to appear weak on terrorism, Mr. Khadr became a sacrificial lamb, placed on the altar to show Canada’s support for the U.S.

There is no hope for any change in the United States. Rampant jingoism is the song being played by every major candidate for president, and it is music to the ears of the public. In Canada, where the disgraceful Stephen Harper has been defeated by the apparently (this remains to be seen) less disgraceful Justin Trudeau, there may be a glimmer of hope. But when the rule of law can be so easily discarded for political expediency, hope becomes an elusive concept.


[1] http://www.vox.com/2015/5/8/8572585/omar-khadr-guantanamo

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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