Fact Sheet: Omar Khadr, child “soldier”
Instead of granting him freedom and rehabilitation, PM Stephen Harper ensured Omar was incarcerated in a maximum-security institution on his return to Canada. The government continues to meddle in the judicial process by issuing public statements which falsely label Omar as an unrepentant terrorist.
Dennis Edney, who has defended Omar for over a decade pro bono, agrees with the Office of the Correctional Investigator that Omar should be classified at a minimum-security level and then released.
Based on good behaviour, Omar was reclassified as medium-security and moved to Bowden Correctional Institution where he has access to some rehabilitation programs in order to earn parole. In July 2014 the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled he must be transferred to a provincial facility, but Omar remains at Bowden.
Although the Government has denied media access to interview Omar, a recent media court challenge argues a constitutional breach of the public’s right to know.
Appeal against U.S. conviction
On November 8, 2013, Pentagon lawyer Sam Morison filed an appeal in Washington to have Omar Khadr’s Guantanamo conviction overturned since all evidence indicates that Omar did not commit any crimes. In fact, Omar Khadr was himself a victim of an internationally recognized war crime: while badly wounded and lying in a prone position, Omar was shot in the back by a U.S. Special Forces soldier.
With support from a team of dedicated professors from King’s University College in Edmonton, Omar is working towards completion of his high school diploma. His teachers speak highly of his academic abilities and remarkably positive disposition.
Omar’s physical injuries, PTSD, and deteriorating eyesight and potential blindness are serious health concerns. In March 2014, he finally received surgery for chronic infection in his shoulder.
Despite the unspeakable abuse and hardship Omar has suffered, he has retained his dignity and is a positive and cheerful person who wishes to live a normal, productive life.
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke by telephone with Omar in July 2014. He said “It is unconscionable that Omar Khadr, following a travesty of a trial, where he was treated as an adult in a vicious kangaroo court, should be languishing in jail” and that “His own country Canada should be an accomplice in holding him in prison. This is an example of a horrible miscarriage of justice and that in a modern democratic state. [Omar] struck me as a very gentle and caring and courteous human being who does not belong where he is at present. The Canadian authorities would do their stature much good if they released him immediately.”
- Senator Romeo Dallaire, an outspoken advocate for Omar’s rights as a former child soldier, said in a 2012 speech to the Senate, “Honourable senators, I am rising now to put on the record the case of the only child soldier prosecuted for war crimes.… It is my intention to speak about the nightmares this man has suffered, the failures of our government to protect him, and the immediate necessity for this government to sign the transfer agreement and bring Omar back home.”
- Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, has defined Omar Khadr as a child soldier in a 2010 letter to the military commission in Guantanamo and he is entitled to rehabilitation and reintegration into society, not imprisonment.
Background – Afghanistan and Guantanamo 2002 – 2012
U.S. attack and war crimes
On July 27, 2002, fifteen-year-old Omar was rendered unconscious and blinded in one eye, when the U.S. Army Special Forces carried out a four hour bombardment on the compound where he was staying. When found in the rubble – unarmed and severely wounded – Omar was shot in the back by a U.S. soldier, leaving huge exit wounds in his upper left chest. “(He’s) missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating”, wrote a U.S. officer in a subsequent written account of the events.
Later, a leaked Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force report revealed that the U.S. military had doctored the field report to implicate Omar in the death of a U.S. Delta Force soldier (disguised in Afghan clothing) and erased evidence that a U.S. grenade had caused the soldier’s death. The military not only denied that the soldier had been killed by friendly fire, but also hid information that Omar in the back at close range another survivor executed.
Illegal capture and imprisonment
After his capture by U.S. forces, Omar should have been identified as a child soldier – he was fifteen and involved in a battle in a war zone – and provided with immediate protection as guaranteed by the UN Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Instead, he was illegally captured, detained, and tortured in Bagram prison until October 2002. He was then transferred to Guantanamo and held there for more than a decade – often in solitary confinement – until his delayed repatriation in September 2012 to a maximum-security institution in Canada.
The Canadian government’s complicity
Following Omar’s capture by U.S. military, the Canadian government had the obligation to demand that Omar be treated according to the Geneva Conventions with special regard for his age and be immediately returned to Canada. Instead, the government, first the Liberal and then the Conservative, were complicit in the illegal treatment of Omar. Although he was a Canadian child, he was denied the protection of fundamental rights provided by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada and the U.S. Supreme Court have confirmed that the U.S. and Canada have violated Omar Khadr’s rights.
The UN Committee Against Torture has called on Canada to honour its legal obligation to ensure that Omar receives redress for human rights violations that the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled he experienced.
In 2006 the U.S. charged Omar with five ex post facto offences. Not only have the accusations against him never been proven or heard by a regularly constituted court, the charges were not offences in 2002 under U.S. law and are still not offences under Canadian or International Law. As upheld in the recent Hamdan appeal, the military court in Guantanamo (or any legitimate court) is not permitted to apply law retroactively.
The Guantanamo Military Commission was created to try Omar’s case because U.S. civilian and military courts refused to hear it. In 2008, the Federal Court of Canada revealed that the U.S. had given Canada their evidence for the case and asked if Omar Khadr could be tried in Canada. The Conservative government refused, saying, “that it was unlikely he would ever be convicted in Canada”. The Guantanamo military tribunal is neither a regularly constituted court nor a court intended to conduct fair trials. Under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is an offence to impose a sentence in the absence of a determination by a regularly-constituted court.
In October 2010, Omar accepted the “get-out-of-Guantanamo plea deal” offered by his U.S. captors and pleaded guilty to the five ex post facto charges. After maintaining his innocence while enduring eight years of extreme torture, Omar understood that pleading guilty was his only way out of Guantanamo.