For Canadians in the "hang ‘em high" camp, the former child soldier deserves no pity, but it's important to remove emotion and analyze the actual facts of his case
On Monday, March 25, an Alberta judge ruled that Omar Khadr has completed his eight-year sentence for “murder in violation of the laws of war” after the final four years were served on conditional release in Edmonton.
The ruling handed down by Court of Queen’s bench Chief Justice Mary Moreau reignited the powder keg of emotions that has surrounded Khadr’s controversial case for a decade and a half.
For Canadians in the “hang ‘em high” camp, Khadr deserves no pity. To them, he fought in Afghanistan as an Islamic extremist, with links to al-Qaeda. In July 2002, he was captured following a firefight with U.S. Special Forces at a compound in the eastern Afghanistan village of Ayub Kheyl. During that skirmish, a grenade killed U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Speer. At the scene of the battle, the U.S. military would find video showing Khadr being instructed on how to build an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and since Canadian soldiers fought alongside American troop inside Afghanistan, he is viewed as a traitor. The fact that the vast majority of Canada’s 158 soldiers were killed (and another 2,000 wounded) by IEDs during our 12-year deployment to Afghanistan makes Khadr’s actions all the more despicable in the eyes of his haters.
But it is important to remove the emotion from the Khadr equation and to analyze the actual facts of the case.
Khadr was born in Canada to immigrant parents from Egypt and Palestine. His father, Ahmed, was an Islamic extremist with ties to al-Qaeda. Khadr grew up in a household where he was indoctrinated in his father’s Islamic fundamentalist views.
At the time of the 2002 firefight, Khadr was only 15 years old. He was a boy in a war zone, and that can only be blamed on his father.
As a former soldier, I have found it strange in the extreme why U.S. authorities charged young Khadr given the circumstances surrounding the battle. The U.S. Special Forces had surrounded the village. The collection of huts were attacked by U.S. Apache helicopter gunships and A-10 Warthog aircraft which dropped multiple 225-kilogram bombs.
It was during the final stages of this combat, as the U.S. commandos were mopping up, that the grenade which took the life of Speers was thrown. There is no eyewitness testimony claiming Khadr threw that deadly projectile, but he was the only enemy fighter captured alive and barely so at that. Khadr was shot three times in the chest and only survived thanks to the skill and professionalism of U.S. Army medics.
How does killing an enemy soldier in battle constitute “murder,” especially when the murderer was himself a 15-year-old boy who was grievously wounded?
Following his capture, Khadr was detained in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.
Despite the fact that he was a Canadian citizen and a minor in the eyes of the law at the time, the U.S. considered him and “illegal combatant.” As such, he was not accorded the basic rights of a recognized prisoner of war as defined by the Geneva Convention – or those given U.S. citizens charged with the same offense under the Criminal Code.
In 2010, eight years into his custody, Khadr pleaded guilty to the murder charge as part of a plea deal that would allow him to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canada.
It was at that time that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a Canadian Intelligence interrogation of Khadr while he was in custody at Guantanamo “offended the most basic Canadian standards of treatment of detained youth suspects.” It was that ruling which formed the basis for Khadr’s successful lawsuit against the Harper government for its failure to protect his rights as a Canadian citizen.
In 2017, Canada agreed to pay Khadr $10.5 million in compensation for his suffering at the hands of the U.S. authorities.
This payout generated howls of indignation from Canadian veterans and their supporters who pointed out the discrepancy in payments made to the families of those soldiers killed in Afghanistan. (The lump sum death benefit for a Canadian soldier killed an active duty is $400,000).
It’s a valid argument, but on the flip side what dollar value would you put on the lost youth of a 15-year-old child soldier who was first victimized by his radicalized father, then tortured and abused by the U.S. military, and finally neglected by his own government?
Scott Taylor is a former Canadian infantry soldier and founder of Esprit de Corps Magazine.