FEW Canadians lose sleep over Omar Khadr, who has spent 10 years in the rough clutches of what passes for American military justice. Yet the abuse he has suffered with the complicity of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government and that of its Liberal predecessors has shamed Canada. His expected return from Guantanamo Bay, while welcome, does us no great credit either.
As the legal machinery to repatriate Khadr creaked into motion this week Ottawa obtusely continued to express no burning desire to get him home where he will serve out his sentence for killing a U.S. soldier. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews will do the Americans a favour by considering transferring Khadr back here, was the official line. Such is the shabby close to an infamous case in which Ottawa refused to go to bat for one of our own.
U.S. President Barack Obama once declared Gitmo a “legal black hole” predicated on a “dangerously flawed legal approach” that “compromised our core values.” Khadr finally buckled to that ugly system in 2010 and surrendered the guilty plea to murder and war crimes that it was designed to elicit. His plea bargain was a “hellish decision” to preclude trial in a sham court and the risk of a life sentence. He got eight years, including one more at Gitmo.
Khadr, now 25, was pushed to fight in Afghanistan by his al-Qaida-linked father. He confessed to planting bombs and to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight in 2002 when he was 15, in which he was hurt and captured. U.S. officials threatened him with gang rape, denied him counsel, deprived him of sleep, and set a precedent by charging him with war crimes as a juvenile.
The Americans now want him gone, for reasons of their own. Hopefully, he will be paroled soon after he returns. He has spent far more time behind bars than he would have in Canada, had he been convicted here in a credible court of murder as a young offender.
Through it all, as Canada’s allies successfully lobbied to free their nationals from Gitmo, the Harper government wilfully neglected Khadr. It never forcefully protested his mistreatment, criticized his prosecution, or asked for leniency. It took the obtuse view that justice was taking its course. It washed its hands of a young Canadian, leaving him to his fate. It failed a citizen, and disgraced itself.