August 20th, 2017

Guest Column: In Khadr case, pragmatism comes at a cost


By Medicine Hat News Opinon on July 15, 2017.

The occasionally honourable former prime minister Stephen Harper sometimes chose to ignore his duty to uphold justice and Charter rights. He often chose the pragmatic over the principled course of action, hoping thereby to avoid confrontation with the landlords down south.

No surprise here. Anyone driven by little more than a concern for commerce has scant time for principles. So Mr. Harper, true to his ‘bottom line’ ethics, abandoned his responsibility, and his promise, to protect the citizens of his country.

I’m speaking here of course of the disturbing Omar Khadr story, that miserable little tale of Canada’s governments, both Liberal and Conservative, weaving and bobbing for 15 years to avoid doing the right thing. By now we have all read that Omar Khadr, now 29, was granted $10.5 million and, most unusually, an apology from the present government. No surprise that a shrill chorus of voices suddenly arose, incensed that our government has just granted taxpayers’ dollars to a murdering terrorist.

At the risk of flaming torches and sharpened pitchforks at my door I now want to offer a few details about this case that are not normally found in clipped little 20 second news stories or the wonderfully stupid exchanges on the web.

There is no doubt that Ahmed Khadr, the father of Omar, was a terrorist, and that most of his family members were avowed supporters of terrorism. Ahmed, who emigrated to Canada in 1977 to marry a Palestinian Canadian in Ottawa, did not hide his fierce support for Islam. In the 1980s, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Ahmed Khadr and his buddies, the mujahideen, including his friend Osama bin Laden, joined in the defence of Afghanistan and their religion. At the time they were seen as ‘good terrorists’ confronting Soviet expansionism. Their terrorist activities and military adventures were welcomed and openly supported by the the U.S. and the West. By 1989 the Soviets, badly pistol-whipped, slunk home.

Ahmed continued his involvement in Afghanistan, joining bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in a deadly and messy struggle against the Taliban and various warlords, and eventually mounting terrorist attacks against Western targets. We know the al-Qaeda story: The Egyptian embassy in Pakistan was bombed in 1996. Two years later the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. And then, the big one, the unthinkable, the one that changed everything — Sept. 11. Through all of this, Ahmed Khadr managed to father six children, all citizens of Canada, the second last of which was Omar Khadr.

Which takes us to July 27, 2002. A 15-year-old, crouching in a bombed-out shelter, in the middle of a firefight, shots and explosions, angry voices coming closer.

Why was he there?

He was 15, raised in the home of a domineering father and surrounded by ‘jihadist’ sympathizers; his sisters proclaimed their willingness to serve as suicide bombers, his brothers attended guerrilla training camps. Did he have a choice? He did not. This was clearly a case of ‘the sins of the father being visited upon the children.’

A grenade was thrown. No one saw Omar Khadr throw it. In fact one American soldier testified, and produced a photograph as corroboration, that Omar Khadr was partially under rubble when he was discovered and therefore could not have thrown a grenade.

Another report from the first American soldier to enter the structure in which Omar was sheltering, says he shot and killed one combatant near the doorway. Then, through the dust of battle, he saw, facing away from him, in the far corner, Omar Khadr. He shot Omar twice in the back, later discovering that Omar had been wounded and struck in the eye by shrapnel.

So who threw the grenade that resulted in Omar Khadr spending 10 years in Guantanamo?

There is, of course, the matter of Omar Khadr’s confession of guilt. This confession was made to a military tribunal by a 17-year-old who had been deprived of sleep, was without proper counsel, was threatened with rape and torture, and who was offered the hope of serving one year and then being transferred to Canada if he confessed. Does his confession carry any weight? Clearly four or more Canadian federal justices, over the years, disagreed. And a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2010 stated the behaviour of the Harper government “offend[ed] the most basic Canadian standards [of] the treatment of detained youth suspects” and urged the Canadian government to repatriate. Stephen Harper repeatedly refused and knowingly allowed the American jailers to abuse and violate the rights of a Canadian citizen. He showed no inkling of statesmanship right up until his defeat.

I don’t know the worth of 10 years lived under torture and the absence of hope. Maybe $10.5 million? Pragmatism sometimes comes at a cost. Having principles has its dividends.

Peter Mueller is a long-time resident of Medicine Hat who, in spite of all the evidence, continues to believe we can build a better world.


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