Omar Khadr: a “child soldier” or a “child terrorist”?
He was just 15 years old when arrested after a fire fight with US forces in Afghanistan; Omar Khadr has spent the last six years locked up in the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay without a trial. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that spending this long in prison without trial is a form of torture. Supporters of Khadr say he is simply a child soldier and should not be facing charges in an American military tribunal. Others say that since Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, he should be brought home to Canada to face charges, rather than remain the last Western citizen locked up at the makeshift prison dubbed “Gitmo”.
If any of this is true, why is Canada, Boy Scout to the World, the country that pioneered “soft power” throughout the 1990s and spearheaded the international treaty on landmines, letting one of its citizens rot on his own without help? The answer is, things aren’t always what they seem with the Khadr family. History, post-9/11 politics and the legal systems of two countries all contribute to this tale that has been generating international headlines.
Truth be told, Omar Khadr is a Canadian of convenience. Although born in Toronto in 1986, Omar’s parents, both immigrants to Canada, had decided to raise their family elsewhere to escape a culture they viewed as having a corrupting influence on their young and growing family. The family was living overseas in locales such as Bahrain and Pakistan, returning for brief spells in 1985 and 1986 only for Omar and his older brother Ibrahim to be born or receive medical care from Canada’s state medical system. Omar left Canada for Pakistan’s Peshawar district when he was only months old, spending the rest of his life going between Pakistan, Afghanistan and when the family needed medical treatment, Canada.
(…) To Khadr supporters who view him as a child soldier and a victim, his immediate release into Canadian society could hardly be viewed as a victory. Rehabilitation of a child soldier would normally include an attempt to reintegrate the boy into society in a normal way and to reunite him with his family. If Omar Khadr is a victim, taught to hate and take up arms against his will or better judgement, then the people who did this to him are his mother and father. His father is now dead, but his mother is back in Canada, having moved back in 2003 to obtain medical care for one of her other children. She and her daughters have spoken openly of their support for Al Qaida and their disdain for western society. One of Omar’s brothers is fighting extradition to the United States, where he faces charges of being an arms supplier to jihadists. This is hardly the environment you would want to rehabilitate a victim in, yet without charges to hold him on, or a conviction to jail him with, the Canadian government would have no choice but to release Omar Khadr into the loving arms of his mother. How would it help a supposed child soldier to send him back to a woman with a deep seated hatred for the society she lives in, a woman who has already proven that she and her loved ones will act on that hatred?