Omar Khadr’s reported plea bargain, details of which were released early this week, will have the Canadian serve no more than another eight years in jail. The Canadian government has finally agreed to repatriate Khadr, and said he can serve the last part of his sentence in Canada, after serving another year at Gitmo. Although this plea bargain finally ends the “undefined” nature of Khadr’s detainment, it represents yet another injustice in a case that has been anything but fair.
Khadr pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, terrorism and spying charges at an American court held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2002, Khadr, a Canadian citizen only 15 years of age, was captured by American forces in Afghanistan, where he was a participant in the Afghan insurgency. Since being arrested by the Americans in 2002, he has spent time in the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan and subsequently, the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Khadr should have been classified a child soldier, and should have been given the same sort of assistance that is accorded to other victims of war. Instead, he was treated, tried, and is now being sentenced as a war criminal.
A clause in his plea bargain which disables him from suing the American government for anything which occurred while he has been in their custody could make one think that he was indeed tortured, and that the U.S. government is protecting itself. A statement read by Khadr’s lawyer at a recent military tribunal hearing alleges that an interrogator at Gitmo had threatened to gang-rape Khadr to death.
While the American government is certainly the institution most directly responsible for the many injustices that Khadr has had to deal with, the Canadian government must also share a portion of that responsibility. As a Canadian citizen, especially one who under international law was a child soldier, the Canadian government should have demanded his repatriation from day one. Instead, both the Liberal and Conservative governments did as little as possible for him.
The failure of the Canadian government to secure even the most basic human and civil rights for one of its citizens must be viewed as a blemish on Canada’s human rights credentials. This will also complicate Khadr’s eventual return to Canada, whether it is to serve the last part of his sentence or to resume his life as a Canadian. Sentiment in the country toward his case has surely changed. According to an Angus Reid poll from February, 40 per cent of Canadians were in favor of Khadr being repatriated and standing trial under the Canadian legal system. His guilty plea will surely make Canadians rethink if the admitted terrorist is worthy of the Canadian treatment.
Khadr’s plea bargain removes his right to sue the American government, but curiously enough makes no similar move to prevent him from suing the Canadian government. He should make use of that option, so that the individuals within the Canadian government responsible for the policy of inaction, which has allowed for the great injustices that he has suffered, may be called to account.