By Andy Worthington
Eleven months late, the Canadian government has finally signed the paperwork authorizing the return to Canada from Guantánamo of Omar Khadr. A Canadian citizen, he was just 15 years old when he was seized, in July 2002, after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, an alleged associate of Osama bin Laden, and subsequently flown to Guantánamo, where he was held for the last ten years.
As a juvenile — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — Khadr should have been rehabilitated rather than being subjected to various forms of torture and abuse, according to the the Optional Protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the U.S. and Canada are signatories. Instead, the U.S. put him forward for a war crimes trial, on the unproven basis that he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier at the time of his capture, and the Canadian government abandoned him, even though courts up to and including the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that his rights had been violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantánamo. In 2010, the Court stated, “Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the U.S. prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”
Khadr was put forward for a trial by military commission at Guantánamo, and, under the terms of a plea deal that he agreed to in October 2010 — solely to be released from Guantánamo, in exchange for an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served at Guantánamo and the remaining seven in Canada — he admitted to being an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” and to throwing the grenade, whether he did or not. He was also obliged to concede that, by partaking in combat with U.S. forces during wartime and in an occupied country, he was a war criminal.