(courtesy of CBC)
It's official: Omar Khadr is a convicted and sentenced murderer. He was sentenced to 40 years, yet I have absolutely no doubt, that Khadr will be either on the streets of Canada - or Afghanistan - within a year or shortly thereafter.
For those not paying attention, Omar Khadr's sentence by a military jury in Guantanamo Bay, was for his role in events that took place in a compound in Afghanistan in 2002, which left a US medic mortally wounded. The 40 years is, however, now a moot point. A plea deal was made between the prosecutors and the US government, in exchange for Khadr's pleading guilty to five charges. Khadr's Canadian civilian lawyer Dennis Edney says that Khadr will serve no more than eight years in prison as part of the plea deal and then be subject to parole board conditions upon his release. Military judge Col. Patrick Parrish accepted Khadr's pleas and told him he will be eligible to apply for transfer to a Canadian prison after serving one year of his sentence in the United States or a U.S. detention facility.
So just who is this Omar Khadr? That depends on who you talk to. To the UN, Amnesty International, (and Uncle Tom Cobley and all) etc etc, plus the opposition political parties within Canada, Omar Khadr - who was 15 years old when he was wounded and captured by US forces after a fierce battle which took the life of US medic Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer ( see my recent column on Speer here) - was a misguided child who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Again according to his lawyer Edney, Khadr only agreed to plead guilty to the five charges against him because they felt he wouldn't get a fair trial within the military system. Edney says this guilty plea ' is just a piece of paper.'
It is a fact that mere weeks before he finally did plead guilty to charges which included murder and supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, Khadr was still protesting his innocence, and the media was perpetuating a public narrative of this poor gullible child led astray by a family with long ties to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. To see the statement of facts that Khadr agreed on, go here.
I have watched this case closely over the last few years, and there has been a masterful manipulation of public opinion, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, who prefaced every story about Khadr with 'child soldier,' 'who is alleged...' Just this last week, I heard respected Canadian military General Romeo Dallaire(now a Senator,) talking very eloquently about the Geneva Convention that Canada and the US are signatories to, on the definition of child soldier, and saying not only is Khadr a great candidate for rehabilitation, but is also 'one of our own,' meaning Canadian.
Despite the best efforts of all those who have been determined to cast Khadr in the light of innocence, I have always seen him for what he is: a cold-blooded killer who reveled in the planning and killing of American (and other) forces. To my mind, it is but a fluke that Khadr had not thus far managed to kill any of our 'own' Canadian troops.
Let me be clear: I have worked with many children all my adult life, including young adolescent males who have tangled with the justice system. I am a big fan of redemption, and second chances. But, I can also smell a con a mile away. And to me, these past years have shown us a masterful con on Khadr's part. The current US government is complicit, too. I find it all too coincidental that a deal was struck with this government, at this time, to clear the Khadr case if you will. It is just all too convenient that after languishing for years in GITMO, this matter is settled within days of a US election. Conspiracy? We cannot know for sure, but timing IS all.
The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been challenged by the media many times over the last few years as to whether Canada had any hand in first, the ongoing 'torture and mistreatment' of Khadr in GITMO and, in more recent weeks, what role the Canadian government has played in this deal making. Harper has consistently denied any active role, repeating that he believes the Khadr case should be allowed to play out within the US judiciary. Although he has repeatedly come under extreme pressure over the years in our Houses of Parliament to demand/insist Khadr be returned to Canada, Harper has maintained the position that it is an American issue. Much has been made over the years that Khadr has been the youngest, and only, westerner still in GITMO, as every other country has asked for the return of their citizens held in GITMO. I am not a huge fan of Harper's, but on this issue, I have applauded his staunch unwavering stand that Khadr face a US military trial.
So what of these false, carefully crafted narratives that Khadr is either a child soldier, and should be treated with kid gloves, or was just an unwitting victim of an overbearing father, who stood no chance to make autonomous - adult - decisions? I have heard various 'experts' these past weeks, especially buying into that Khadr qualifies as a 'child soldier, according to international law. In 1949, the Geneva Conventions said this:
Article 77.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, adopted in 1977:
According to that, once a person has reached the age of 15, he/she cannot be considered to be a ‘child soldier. ' In fact, within Khadr's own family, he was considered an adult by the age of 15. In Islamist cultures 15 is considered adult, and Khadr's own sister was married off at that same age. Khadr's older brother Abdullah Ahmed Khadr:
‘The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the Parties to the conflict shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.’
Abdullah was interviewed for the 2004 documentary Son of al Qaeda, and acknowledged attending the Khalden training camp. But he said that a ten-year-old learning to fire an AK47 was as common in Afghanistan as it was for a Canadian child to learn to play hockey. (From Wikipedia)
The Khadr patriarch was an ally of Osama bin Laden, and at one time the whole Khadr family lived in the OBL compound. It is a well documented fact that the Khadr family has lived and travelled throughout the Islamic world over the years. Father Ahmed Said Khadr:
- Born in Egypt, moved to Canada in 1977.
- Accused of being a "founding member" of al-Qaeda and financier for the organization.
- Put on a list of suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
- Killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces near the Afghanistan border.
I am certainly no expert but according to UNICEF the definition of 'child soldier' is:
"A 'child soldier' is defined as any child - boy or girl - under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including, but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members. [emphasis mine] It includes girls and boys recruited for sexual purposes and/or forced marriage. The definition, therefore, does not only refer to a child who is carrying, or has carried weapons" (Cape Town Principals, 1997).
Yes, it states that 18 is the cut off age when considering child soldier status, but the clause "other than family members" totally negates any of the travelling Khadr siblings. They ARE family members, and history shows terrorism IS their business. Period. Omar Khadr never was a child anything in that compound in Afghanistan. He most certainly was not a soldier, either, by any definition, since he wore no uniform, and was not part of a recognised army, by his own words. He WAS an enemy combatant, trained in killing, hellbent on killing soldiers. This killer, caught inside a compound by US forces, chose to stay right in the action, even as the women and children present took the opportunity given them by those same forces to leave. And yes, as such, despite much howling from his misguided supporters that a military tribunal was inappropriate for him, it was absolutely the right place for him to face a jury. Interestingly, only once listening to CBC radio news did I hear mention of a video that the prosecution had which showed Khadr making and planting IED's. This after the media had had to abandon their 'innocent abroad on a family picnic' meme (in a war zone no less) in the face of his copping a guilty plea. That little gem quickly disappeared from public reportage.
Much has been made over the years of Khadr's youthful (implied 'innocent') appearance. In the last couple of weeks we have seen him wearing a western suit, and looking neatly 'pressed.'
In this Pentagon-approved photograph of a sketch by artist Janet Hamlin, Omar Khadr listens to closing arguments on Saturday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Canadian Press)
This picture is, of course, a huge contrast to the picture that we regularly saw of him attached to most stories over the years:
These carefully crafted public images stand in stark contrast to the Omar Khadr who stood in a hearing in GITMO just a mere 18 months ago. Apparently the media was also present in July 2009 - but I saw no reporting - when one afternoon Khadr was led into a hearing room. Diane and Ken Fairben were there. They were down at GITMO to attend KSM's hearing, part of which had been held that morning.
My regular readers know well that Diane and Ken are the parents of paramedic Keith Fairben who gave his life on 9/11 as he saved many others. Today, I asked the Fairbens for their responses to these past few weeks, knowing as I did, that they had been within mere feet of Khadr in the GITMO tribunal room.
He was dressed in the long white robe thing with the white cap on. Very long beard. As I can remember, he was tall, and thin. He walked into the courtroom like he didn't have a care in the world. Relaxed, smiling, and when he turned around to see who was in the gallery ( no glass and separate room here for us), he smiled....
All of them definitely play to the gallery, and if they can, make fun of 9/11 in ways we can see. ...he seemed so arrogant., calm, and I could just see him calmly throwing that grenade. He was proud of what he did ( as they all are) Cold, no sense at all of any feelings for anyone, god forbid, remorse. That's how I would describe him, a stone cold killer, no conscience.
Both Diane and Ken have shared with me their thoughts about the KSM trial, but that's for another day.
Ken on Khadr that day in July 2009:
While I sat in that court room, we were very close to him. There was just a typical rail dividing us from him...Security was very tight. There was a motion for another 90 days and the Judge was not Happy at all...Watching [Khadr,] he was unconcerned, actually smiling at times... I would say that he showed NO Remorse what so ever.. as I stated above, he seemed very unconcerned and found the atmosphere amusing...
Well you asked, so in just a few brief words, HE is as evil as the other 5 murderers awaiting trials....I don't care how old he was, HE IS A MURDERER. And he should be held accountable for his actions...
Ken and Diane did tell me more, but you get the idea. Everything they have told me, and everything I have read, reinforces what a great con job Khadr and his defence team have just pulled off. I was very pleased to see that the military jury was not conned. I still do not understand why that jury was not told ahead of time that a plea bargain had been struck, and that whatever their sentence was, Khadr would serve the lesser.
Back to the con job. A few things over the last few days really smelled to me. One was when Khadr stood up and addressed the court and Tabitha Speer, widow of Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer. As I understand it, this was considered unsworn testimony by Khadr, so there was no cross examination or questioning of his statement by the prosecution. Khadr stood before Tabitha Speer and told her he was "very, very sorry for the pain" he had caused her family. Remember this is the self-professed innocent who had 8 years in which to express his remorse to Mrs Speer for the outcome of that day in 2002, via a letter or something. He chose not to, until he could stand in a courtroom in his neat suit, looking suitably earnest and sincere. This now self-confessed murderer, who one witness - dean of arts of a Christian college in Canada - described as a 'poetic writer,' couldn't find it in his heart to communicate his regret to Mrs Speer and her children in all those years he had to think while in GITMO? By the way, that dean of arts? She told the court that her college would offer Omar Khadr a place in their school as a student. Khadr, in his unsworn statement had told the court that he was 'fascinated by knowledge' or some such thing. He also said he wants to become a doctor, and heal people's pain, because he knows all about 'pain.'
Interesting twist on the Dean of Arts offering Khadr a place there. On August 13 we get this from the Globe and Mail:
Defence team efforts to suggest a warm Christian welcome at an small Alberta college awaits Omar Khadr and that such sanctuary should be considered at the sentencing phase of his trial have been disavowed by the dean who was supposed to testify.
Arlette Zinck, dean of the faculty of arts at The King’s University College in Edmonton, denied that Mr. Khadr, a devout Muslim facing murder and terrorism charges, had been guaranteed immediate admission at one of Canada’s most Christian colleges.
Yet in a filing to the military tribunal in Guantanamo, Mr. Khadr’s lawyers say Ms. Zinck “will testify that her university is willing to accept Omar Khadr immediately” and “will also testify that there is a firm commitment by the board of the university to assist Omar Khadr by providing a structured, safe, educational environment when he is released from U.S. custody.”
I guess the school had a change of heart from the warm and fuzzies there, but Dr Zinck did speak at Khadr's trial, stressing that speaking as a private citizen she is an advocate of his.:
She told the commission she believed "odds are good" that Khadr would be admitted to the university if he applied.
"As dean of arts ... he'd get a fair shake," she said.
Khadr said he would be honoured to attend the school.
(More from the CBC here)
"...a devout Muslim..." honoured to be attending a Christian school! What could possibly go wrong?
About now, I imagine Khadr is feeling very pleased with himself, for a job well done. America has served him well, right from the moment he was wounded in battle. While Speer, a medic, lay mortally wounded at Khadr's hand, another medic in that same unit worked to save Khadr's life. When he arrived in Landstuhl, a female opthamologist - one of the best in the world - was flown in to work on Khadr's eyes. I find it ironic that a terrorist was given the absolute best medical treatment by those he has been trained to kill, but this is what our troops do. I have heard more than a few incredible stories by various coalition medics of how they treat wounded terrorists with the same level of care they give to our own wounded - and often alongside.
To hear some tell it, poor Omar has had a terrible time in GITMO and should never have been subjected to such abuse all these years. Don't believe it for a minute. One defence witness told the courts that he found Khadr 'always respectful,' and said that he believed he would be a good candidate for 'rehabilitation.' That whole rehab and deprogramming him thing is another part of this all that stinks to me. Who are they kidding? First, has Khadr renounced his muslim faith, which would surely be a cruucial first step in his rehab? Apparently not. And how exactly do you rehab and deprogramme a 'devout muslim'? As far as I know, Canada has no such facilities or experts in that area. Smell, much? But this 'respectful' Khadr is the same man that a prosecution witness described on the stand as '...dangerous. Any remorse shown is shallow,' and '...someone who knew exactly what he was doing.' This is the thug who admitted to training for combat, building and planting bombs, and when told that the killing of US troops could earn him a bounty of $1,500 per kill, he admits right in the plea documents that he 'wanted to kill lots of Americans, to get lots of money.' Remember, this document was agreed to in the last few weeks, so there is no room to still portray Khadr as a young, scared innocent. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Khadr's lawyer read another unsworn statement into the record at the tribunal. Again, being unsworn, no questions were allowed. According to Edney, Omar had spent much of his time while in interrogation very afraid, to the point that he cried. No apologies from me, but I find it nigh impossible to feel any sympathy for him. And yes, we have all seen the 'terrible' conditions they live under at GITMO. Various visitors have been there and videotaped the amenities, and they aren't spartan by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, Khadr has done very well for himself by the Americans. It is all a winning situation for him.
As for Mrs Tabitha Speer? On the announcement of the 40 year sentence by the military tribunal, it is reported she "pumped her fist and cheered "yes!" when the jury announced its 40-year sentence. Then she burst into tears." According to reports, she sees this as a 'huge victory,' and in one sense I suppose it is.
It IS a resolution of sorts to this particular saga, but to me it is a clear signal that we really should make NO MORE DEALS with terrorists. Forty years should mean forty years. Period. I understand very well that it served US President Obama's agenda regarding GITMO, and I am relieved that Khadr did not get transferred to a civilian court as Obama is intent on doing with other GITMO residents like KSM.
It is believed that 60% or so of the GITMO detainees released return to the frontlines to kill our troops, often taking up leadership roles. Some will say that this 40 year sentence handed to Khadr, even though he won't serve that, sends a clear message. Right. A much clearer message would be to ensure that these captured enemy combatants - those not killed on the battlefield - actually serve long sentences in a military detention facility. We are at war, and they should have NO rights. As long as we give these terrorists all the rights and privileges afforded them in American civilian courts - or play 'let's make a deal' with them - there will be more Mrs Speer's. For as long as we cling to the 'rehabilitation and deprogramming' or 'catch and release' fiasco, we will never be able to claim victory in this global war on terror.The only message we must send these terrorists, whoever they are, wherever we find them, is: War means war, and for as long as they insist on waging war on us, we WILL hit back, and hit hard.