Why does Canada stay callous and cold to the fate of Omar Khadr?

This whole situation with Omar Khadr is so repulsive, shameful, and depressing. Thinking about how this poor Toronto-born kid has been treated makes me, as a Canadian, feel so embarrassed and sad.

All his rights have been violated, he's been abused, tortured, held for six years (so far), long periods of which have been in solitary confinement, he faces a sham trial that would make the Soviets proud, and he was just 15 years old when captured, yet Canada has done absolutely nothing to help him. In fact, as we now indisputably know, the Canadian government has been an active participant in this whole tragedy. And so I ask: What sort of nation have we become anyway?

And I don't just mean our pathetic Canadian government either. No, I'm also talking about the 38% of Canadians who, in the new Angus Reid opinion poll, say they want Khadr to remain in Guantanamo (only 37% want him repatriated).

That's right, 38% of Canadians not only endorse the use of illegal prison camps where torture has been widespread and habeas corpus is just some term in a crossword puzzle, they also endorse a Canadian citizen being held illegally and tortured. And not just any old Canadian either, but rather one who was a child when captured. Who are these people and what has this country become? Alabama?

It's bad enough that the Canadian government, for six straight years now, has refused to try to bring Khadr home from that American gulag there in Cuba, making him the only remaining Western citizen still held there. All other Western governments, and many non-Western American allies as well, have successfully worked to have their citizens released, but Canada hasn't even tried. Ignoring the pleas of the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International, UNICEF and many others, our government has simply done nothing.

And there he was on our TV screens the other day, our beloved Prime Minister Stephen Harper, coldly telling the press that "the legal process in Guantanamo Bay must be allowed to run its course". Since when does the government of Canada recognize monkey trails? Since when does our country accept the idea that the Geneva conventions can just be thrown aside whenever found to be inconvenient? And since when exactly did Canada stop looking out for its citizens?

What was especially upsetting and infuriating about the video released this week showing Khadr being interrogated at Guantanamo is that it was Canadians, not Americans, doing the interrogating. Canadian government workers; not there to stand up for his rights, not there to demand he be returned to Canada, not there to express sympathy about his recent torture, and not there to help in any way.

Well, besides helping the Americans try to get information out of their "vicious evil Canadian terrorist" detainee. And the Canadian interrogators went back six times in total in 2003-04 to interrogate Khadr... and then pass everything on to their American buddies in the CIA. How low can you get?

It's truly heartbreaking to watch the moment in the video when Khadr breaks down, realizing that the Canadians aren't there to help him at all and he's all on his own. And then you remember that was five and a half years ago now and we've left him there to rot ever since. What a great, noble, classy country this is. Man, am I ever proud to be a Canadian!

What next, are we going to help the Chinese interrogate Canadians locked up in the gulag system they've got set up over there? Maybe we could help them break people such as Canadian Huseyincan Celil, sentenced to life imprisonment on bogus charges of "terrorism". Why not? What makes American illegal prison camps any better than those in China? Think about it.

The Americans may have been in a state of mass hysteria in the years after 9-11, but Canada has no excuse whatsoever for contributing to Khadr's shameful treatment. A Canadian citizen, a Canadian child soldier, a Canadian victim of torture, and the only remaining Western citizen at Guantanamo...and Canada does nothing.

Yes, he's accused of killing an American soldier, something the Americans say he admitted to—after they tortured him—and something his lawyers strongly contend to be untrue. But even if he did throw a grenade in a battle; so what? He was there as a child soldier. And child soldiers are to be rehabilitated, not prosecuted.

Here was a kid raised by his radical, al-Qaida-supporting father and then taken away from his home in Toronto to Pakistan and then on to Afghanistan. This isn't someone who ever had any choice. Brainwashed and then placed in great danger by a demented dad, this isn't a kid worthy of hatred, this is a kid worthy of everyone's deep sadness and pity.

As far as the idea that child soldiers should be rehabilitated, this isn't just something I read in passing somewhere, this is something that's been going on for real in many countries, particularly in Africa. My sister, Liz Marshall, a documentary filmmaker, was actually in the rehabilitation camps for child soldiers in Sierra Leone back in 2000 making a documentary for War Child Canada.

These camps were full of kids who had killed a whole lot more people than the one person Khadr is alleged to have killed. But, like child soldiers in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere, none of them were being prosecuted.

Why? Because they were kids, for fuck sakes! They were being rehabilitated. They weren't responsible. The adults who sucked them into the situation were. It's a no-brainer really.

Well, at least for everyone besides the Canadian Prime Minister, three successive Canadian governments and the 38 percent of Canadians completely void of all compassion and common sense.

Mike Cowie is a writer currently embarked on a book about his three-year trip across Asia with his wife, Sonoko. Read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.




Aug 10, 2008 at 6:14pm

Thank you for mirroring my thoughts. At this point I hold Harper and proponents in almost as much contempt as I hold Bush And Chaney.
Canadian standards of leadership by example have been shot all to hell by the current crew. It's time we were rid of them


Nov 15, 2009 at 6:20pm

Yah, we could do that. We could get rid of them. Who do we replace them with? The liberals? They were in power for at least 3 years when Omar Khadr was held there, and they did nothing either.