The Khadr question
Deep in the belly of the Guantanamo beast a Canadian teenager, Omar Khadr, awaits his trial by military tribunal. Omar has been charged with murder by the Americans because he killed a U.S. medic in a gunfight in Afghanistan. In its Orwellian speak, the Bush administration has termed him an "unlawful combatant." He is, of course, a prisoner of war. Indeed, considering that at the time he committed his "offence" he was only 15 years old and continued to fight the American troops until he was too badly wounded to go on, he might even be considered rather heroic.
The Canadian government, to its shame, is not contesting his status and seems prepared to let him face the arbitrary justice the Americans have planned for him.
It is true he has an unsympathetic background. His family, Egyptian immigrants, have been immersed in violence. The father, Ahmed Said Khadr, killed in a gunfight in Pakistan, was accused of being a founding member and financier of al Qaeda. A sister in Pakistan, Zaynab, has been accused along with her brother, Abdullah, of running an al Qaeda training camp. Abdullah is currently in jail in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities who have indicted him for conspiring to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and other charges. Another brother, Abdurahman, spent time in Guantanamo but has been released. Yet another brother, Abdul Karim, remains paralyzed from the same shootout that killed his father. The mother, Maha, a Palestinian, is committed to extreme Islamic beliefs. She received a certain notoriety in 2004 when she returned to Canada from Pakistan to obtain treatment for Abdul under Medicare.
But all this is irrelevant to the case of Omar Khadr. He is a Canadian citizen and deserves the protection of his government. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, despite being a staunch ally of the Bush administration, has refused to allow British citizens to be held in Guantanamo or face the kangaroo justice of the military tribunals. Ottawa should do no less.
Omar Khadr killed an enemy in the heat of battle when he was hardly more than a child. He is no more a murderer than the young Americans he was fighting. Indoctrinated, some might say victimized, by his fanatical father and carried off to Afghanistan by him, he has never been offered an alternative to violence. He deserves that opportunity. He deserves a chance.