A Target of Scheer Vindictiveness

The Tories have learned nothing and forgotten nothing about Omar Khadr.

By Crawford Kilian 24 Jul 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

After a year and a half in a vegetative coma, the Conservative Party of Canada has wakened with a new leader, Andrew Scheer, and an old idea: the path to power leads over the trampled body of Omar Khadr. The Tories’ energy in attacking Khadr suggests that, as Talleyrand said of the Bourbons returned to France after Napoleon, “They learned nothing and forgot nothing.”

Let’s go back to 2002 and take another look at how Khadr, a Canadian 15-year-old, came to be so demonized. He’d been taken to Afghanistan by his father and became a de facto child soldier. Whether he wanted to be or not is beside the point; as a child, he wasn’t responsible for his actions. On July 27, he was reportedly involved in a firefight with U.S. troops and was alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed one soldier and cost another an eye. He himself was shot, captured, interrogated, and eventually shipped to Guantanamo.

Why Guantanamo? Why didn’t the George W. Bush administration imprison people like Khadr in Leavenworth or some other military prison on U.S. soil? Quite simply, because on U.S. soil such prisoners would have the rights of any other person charged with violating the law. Some of them might even be acquitted, and might then actually sue the U.S. government for any number of offences.

The Bush administration was certainly not going to risk that. Guilty or not, the Guantanamo prisoners were going to be punished. And so was Omar Khadr. In 2010 he was charged with a phony crime (“murder in violation of the laws of war”) under a law that hadn’t even existed in 2002. Rather than face the rest of his life in Guantanamo, Khadr pleaded guilty and made a deal to serve part of his sentence in a Canadian penitentiary.

‘With us or against us’

That plea is what has the Conservatives so upset. Both they and the Liberals should be upset at their own craven behaviour right from the start of the Khadr affair. After Sept. 11, the Bush administration made it clear to friends and foes alike that “you are with us or against us.” The Paul Martin government didn’t complain about the treatment of a Canadian citizen, and the Harper Conservatives were positively eager to keep Khadr in Guantanamo indefinitely.

As the years passed, Harper’s vindictiveness toward Khadr seemed to increase. While other countries like Britain and Australia got their nationals out of Guantanamo, Khadr was left to spend his youth in a foreign prison. (In fairness, Harper was also giving innocent Maher Arar a bad time and allowing Abousfian Abdelrazik to languish in Sudan after he had been cleared of terrorism charges.)

Eventually, of course, Khadr was released from prison and — backed up by rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada — sued the government for $20 million. And here is where the Conservatives part company from reality.

The limits of state power

Democracies are very aware of the power of the state compared with that of the individual, and how easy it is for the state to deprive the individual of not just liberty but life itself. So the democratic state deliberately puts limits on its own power.

One key limit: He who asserts must prove. If Khadr committed a crime, his captors had to prove it. Instead they behaved like a lynch mob in uniform. Canadian intelligence officers took part in the lynching, interrogating Khadr and sharing what they learned with his captors.

Whether Khadr threw a grenade, or a ping-pong ball, or nothing, is something we will now never know, because his illegal trial completely tainted the evidence brought against him.

If the Paul Martin government had any decency at all, it would have demanded that Khadr be returned to Canada forthwith, there to be interrogated but treated as the severely abused child he was. Instead it sacrificed Khadr for the sake of getting along with the Americans, and Stephen Harper carried on the tradition. He even broke a long political silence when Khadr’s $10.5-million settlement was announced. He tweeted:

“The government today attempted to lay blame elsewhere for their decision to conclude a secret deal with Omar Khadr. The decision to enter into this deal is theirs, and theirs alone, and it is simply wrong. Canadians deserve better than this. Today my thoughts are with Tabitha Speer and the families of all Canadian and allied soldiers who paid the ultimate price fighting to protect us.”

Given the limits of Twitter, Harper couldn’t have mentioned that he’d paid the same $10.5 million plus apology to Maher Arar for the injustice done him by the Martin and Harper governments. And while he is no lawyer, Harper had access to plenty of fine legal minds during his time in government; he must have understood perfectly well that Khadr held the legal high ground, and would eventually win his case.

Vindictive but doomed

But, like Christy Clark fighting B.C. teachers for 15 years, Harper and Andrew Scheer and Michelle Rempel seem to think they would please their base by spending taxpayers’ money in a cause both vindictive and doomed.

Run the tape a different way: imagine Khadr back in Canada in 2002, legally interrogated, medically and psychologically cared for, and rehabilitated like any other child soldier. He might have been a problem, but he was our problem and we’d have dealt with him. Today he’d be forgotten, just a guy getting on with his life.

Instead, to make political points that seemed senseless even in 2002, he was deliberately and sadistically abused and robbed of his rights as a Canadian, with the energetic support of the Canadian government of the day (Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister).

We have not only squandered millions of dollars in his imprisonment, his persecution, and his release, we have squandered the good reputation of Canada itself and besmirched the Charter of Rights that protects us all.

Fifteen long, wretched years after 2002, the Middle East is a charnel house thanks to the stupid vindictiveness of the Bush government’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than reflect on their share of the guilt for this catastrophe, the Conservatives try to cover it up, and go on Fox News to abuse one of its victims yet again.

The Conservatives might also reflect on the bankruptcy of their ideas. They had the ability to break the old Progressive Conservatives, to go from minority to majority government, and to move Canada well to the right. But then they over-reached, trying to turn all Muslims into terrorists, and suffered the consequences.

Now the Trudeau government has legally and appropriately atoned for the Conservatives’ crimes against a Canadian teenager, and the Conservatives lack the grace to admit that yes, they failed Omar Khadr as they failed Maher Arar and many other Canadians. They prefer to remain locked in the mindless malevolence of 15 years ago.

And if Canadians let them, they will keep us locked in it as well.  [Tyee]

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