A question: Why do I feel as though we have all been transported back to Salem?
The Khadr commentary has been more foaming at the mouth than fact-driven – the outstanding exception being Michelle Shephard of The Toronto Star.
It has also been shamelessly political, wallowing in the same cesspool of division and hate-mongering that characterized the previous government on a range of issues, including immigration, First Nations and environmentalists.
Former PM Stephen Harper’s hopelessly self-interested critique of what the new government has done in the Khadr case clearly demonstrates one thing: Harper and his party remain frozen in their northern Republican block of ideological ice. That blue, solidly-frozen face beside Harper is Andrew Scheer. He is proving to be about as new as taxes.
To those who are horrified about the amount of money Khadr received, I have another question: Where were you when the Harper government was blowing $5 million of taxpayer money in legal fees to keep from paying Khadr anything? Even though the federal government was dead wrong on the law and morality of this cautionary tale?
This is where the facts come in. Harper spent millions in the fight against compensating Khadr, knowing that he had been a child-soldier pressed into war by his father and captured in Afghanistan at age 15. Fifteen. Think of that 15-year-old of your own playing video games in the basement.
There is a reason that the U.S. Supreme Court and international human rights groups around the world have repeatedly asserted that adolescents differ profoundly, both emotionally and intellectually, from adults. It is for that reason there are unique protocols for dealing with adolescent offenders, including child-soldiers – all of which were ignored in Khadr’s case.
After his capture, Khadr spent 13 years in the infamous Guantanamo Bay, a tropical gulag where prisoners were abused and held without trial on charges that were never allowed near U.S. courts.
It took three years before he was even charged.
President George W. Bush’s “military tribunals” amounted to a troop of kangaroos run amok. The presumption was of guilt, not innocence. Due process sometimes came down to hogtying a prisoner until he urinated on himself.
How badly did any known form of justice get off the rails in the War on Terror? The U.S. military bugged the very meeting room in Guantanamo where detainees talked to defence lawyers about their cases. The listening device was disguised as a smoke detector. So much for solicitor/client confidentiality.
It was after years of abuse at Guantanamo that Khadr “confessed” to war crimes, including tossing the grenade that killed U.S. combat medic Sgt. Christopher Speer in a fierce firefight. Khadr later recanted, claiming he only confessed to get out of Guantanamo.
Who wouldn’t? He was threatened with lifelong imprisonment without trial unless he admitted to the charges against him. At times, it must have seemed that his cell mate was Franz Kafka.
The sleazy sequel to these institutional atrocities at Guantanamo? Successive Canadian governments knew all about the sleep deprivation and extended solitary confinement Khadr was subjected to at Guantanamo – abuses expressly designed to loosen his tongue. (Interestingly, Ottawa is thinking of banning solitary confinement in this country for compassionate reasons.)
At the same time as the Canadian government was telling its citizens that Khadr was being treated humanely at Guantanamo – a Sunday school word for torture. That was a shameless ploy that effectively left a Canadian citizen to his tormentors, as Harper and Jean Chrétien both knew that he was in fact being subjected to “enhanced interrogation.”
And Khadr was no exception.
In 2010, the Harper government instructed five federal entities – the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Border Services Agency, the RCMP and the Department of National Defence to share information on Canadians with foreign agencies, even when there was a “substantial risk” of torture.
Never mind domestic law, international law or this country’s commitment to UN prohibitions against torture. Harper dragged Canada into the netherworld of extraordinary rendition and brutalities usually ascribed to the other side, as though it were an article of patriotism. It was a gross betrayal of the most basic Canadian values of justice. That is what Canadians are paying for today in the Khadr case.
Harper’s shame is all the greater in this matter because at every point along the way, the Supreme Court of Canada reminded him of the illegalities he was committing in the Khadr case. For ten years the courts roared.
The list of those rulings speaks for itself.
No detained juvenile should have been subjected to the kinds of things Khadr faced in prison. It was illegal to share information about Khadr with the U.S. It violated Khadr’s most basic rights to undergo interrogation by Canadian officials at Guantanamo, even though those same officials knew that he had been tortured. And it was wrong to throw Khadr in federal prison when he was finally returned to Canada.
But Harper simply closed his eyes and kept spending those tax dollars on his shabby cause of washing his hands of Khadr. The Liberals under Jean Chrétien did no better, as evidenced by former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham’s regrets over not pushing harder to get Khadr out of Guantanamo Bay, which was the practice of other countries.
Enter the Trudeau government. Faced with a string of damning rulings from the highest court in the land against the federal government, Khadr’s outstanding $20 million civil lawsuit and the prospect of laying out millions more in legal fees in a lost cause, the Liberals apologized and paid up. It was the only way to end the compounding disasters of Harper’s illegal and abusive handling of this file and Liberal bungling before that.
I suspect in the end that the rabid-dog response that Conservatives like Michelle Rempel and Andrew Scheer are trying to inspire in Canadians over the Khadr case hangs on the dollar amount.
They have a point. It is an unimaginable amount of money to ordinary people. It conjures up comparisons to winning the lottery. Missing from that drive-through rush to judgement, though, is any calculation of what the law says, or, heaven forbid, the slightest consideration of what Omar Khadr, child-soldier, actually experienced in the belly of the whale.
In a democracy, there is no higher cause than upholding the law and basic human rights, no matter where that sometimes dark and meandering road leads. Khadr’s disputed millions are not a reward for his actions, real and alleged. They are the price government’s pay when they grind their citizens lives into dust in pursuit of an imagined higher cause.
Author: Michael Harris