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Alleged child soldier deserves lesser sentence

By in Opinions

MATTHEW CHILLIAK

Prime Minister Harper refuses to lessen Omar Khadr’s sentence.
Prime Minister Harper refuses to lessen Omar Khadr’s sentence.

Because of the treatment Omar Khadr has been put through, Canada has shamefully become a country that defies international standards concerning child soldiers.

Khadr recently passed his first year in the Canadian prison system with a court hearing on whether or not he would be allowed to transfer to a provincial jail from the maximum security federal penitentiary where he is now imprisoned. This is after Khadr spent nearly a decade in the United States Guantanamo Bay detention facility and was transferred to the Canadian prison system under a plea deal made with U.S. authorities — all for war crimes he allegedly committed while he was a child soldier of just 15 years of age.

For those who are unaware of who Khadr is, here is a quick rundown: born in 1986 in Toronto to parents of Egyptian origin, Omar’s family moved around frequently from Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 2002, Khadr was captured by U.S. troops during their invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. While there are varying reports of the firefight that Khadr was afterwards found in, it is alleged that he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during the end of the battle.

Being the lone survivor among the U.S. targets in the battle, Khadr was captured, interrogated harshly and eventually transferred to the notoriously cruel Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Omar had at one point confessed to the killing, though it was under the dubious circumstances of U.S. interrogation methods that have been described by many as torturous.

Khadr was the first person since the Second World War to be tried by a military commission for alleged war crimes committed while a minor. The firefight that Khadr was caught up in was fierce and photos of him following the fight resemble that of a dead child with a pale face, a gash that extends from one shoulder all the way to his abdomen and an eye that required taping to stay in place.

The torture — or interrogation as the U.S. calls it — that Khadr was placed under after his capture and throughout most his time in U.S. custody included numerous shameful acts.

Khadr was threatened with rape as well as being attacked by military dogs. He was often sleep deprived and placed in solitary confinement or had his hands tied above a door frame for hours. As a prisoner he had cold water thrown on him or had a bag placed over his head. This poor teenager was made to carry 5-gallon pails of water to aggravate his shoulder wound and was repeatedly forced to urinate on himself.

For an adult to go through these cruel acts would be hard, but for a young child it would be a nightmare.

Any admissions of guilt under such conditions are recognized by many experts in criminal psychology as unreliable and invalid because of the nature under which they were obtained. With the right amount of pain inflicted, a person will admit to almost anything to stop the suffering.

Many prominent international groups such as Amnesty International, UNICEF and the Canadian Bar Association classify Khadr as a child soldier and recommend his release. Even Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, noted in a press release that Khadr represents the “classic child soldier narrative: recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand.”

Yet the Canadian government continues to push the Conservative tough-on-everything agenda (which includes child soldiers apparently) by remaining steadfast that Khadr deserves all that has come to him and will come to him in the future.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper claimed at a news conference in Ottawa that Khadr “is an individual who, as you know, pled guilty to very serious crimes including murder,” and that ”it is very important that we continue to vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen his punishment for these heinous acts.”

It is hard to imagine after having nearly been killed by U.S. firepower — which included substantial aerial bombings and attacks by approximately 100 soldiers — that Khadr was so intent on continuing the battle that he decided to pick up and throw a grenade. Regardless of whether he threw that one fatal grenade, though, Khadr was a child when the alleged offense took place and should therefore be treated as such.

Instead, he has been treated as a hardened terrorist who deserves nothing but the worst treatment a kid could imagine. This is an affront to human decency and compassion that should shock anyone.

Canada has never been a place that comes to mind when thinking of countries that defy international standards and principles concerning child soldiers, but that has now changed.


Photo: The Prime Minister’s Office/flickr

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