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Spectacle on GitMo

16-Jul-08 12:32 am EST Leave a comment Go to comments

Omar Ahmed Kahdr, a Canadian citizen born in Toronto on September 18, 1986, probably never saw any of this coming.  Although the subject of speculation, it very much looks as if in 2001, while still very young, he was sent to the Middle East by his family (who openly support Al-Quaeda and are ideologically antagonistic about American foreign policy) to first be trained as an Al-Quaeda operative (some call him a child soldier) and then later serve in combat in Afghanistan resisting the American advance.  At some point during the process where the Taliban regime was crushed by American alliance forces, Kahdr was caught in a firefight with a group of American soldiers.  During this firefight, virtually everyone in his combat unit was killed or seriously wounded.  And just when the skirmish seemed over, American forces advanced on the area formerly held by Kahdr’s unit which included a small enclosure; the ruins of a building with a 6 or 7-foot high wall.  It was from behind this wall that suddenly, one of the seriously wounded Al-Queda combatants threw a grenade, which landed fatally close to an American soldier.  After the resulting explosion, American soldiers returned fire seriously wounding Kahdr and killing at least one (and very possibly more) remaining Al-Quaeda figthter nearby.

Kahdr was treated for his injuries and then held at an American airbase in Afghanistan for a period of weeks or months.  During this period, Kahdr alleges he was subjected to what he characterizes as "torture" by American military personnel.  Eventually, he was flown to the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (nicknamed ‘GitMo’ in the contemporary media) where numerous additional interrogation sessions were conducted during which some degree of severe treatment is further alleged.  Corroborating this is the fact that one of Kahdr’s interrogators has recently been convicted of torturing prisoners.

At the time of his initial incarceration by the Americans, Kahdr was 16 years old.  Perhaps understandably, the Canadian government didn’t instantly pressure the U.S. to return Kahdr to Canadian custody.  Within 2 years, most unfortunately for Kahdr, a Canadian federal election resulted in a change of government and, with it, a marked change in Canadian policy concerning defending its citizens abroad.  While Kahdr wasn’t the only case of a Canadian left to rot in foreign custody abroad, the boy was left in the hands of the Americans with visits from Canadian officials happening very infrequently.

With the release of the Kahdr video today by his defense team, there has been a great deal of debate on talk radio and amongst pundits concerning Kahdr’s treatment and whether he should be repatriated.  I have to say that as much as I passionately love Canada and what it stands for, there are times when I feel disappointed in my fellow citizens when it seems they don’t share my views – particularly when the difference in those views occurs on such a fundamental moral level.  This isn’t the result of pride or hubris on my part so much as it is that I tend to believe that I mostly reflect the moral disposition of my country.  I become anxious when, on rare occasion, I discover those fundamental views are not shared – regardless of the reason.

According to much of the feedback witnessed today in the popular media sources aforementioned, Canadians tend to regard Kahdr with a degree of ambivalence.  I wouldn’t say this majority is overwhelming, but it is pronounced – and this is surprising.  Canadians tend to take friendship with the Americans very seriously – we have a very close relationship with the United States sharing not only countless cultural elements but all sorts of relationships; ranging from business to personal with the threads of contact weaving the two nations so tightly it sometimes seems we’re actually one.  The assault on September 11, 2001 caused great revulsion and horror here and many of us – myself included – felt not just mere sympathy but a palpable desire to stand alongside our friend who’d had his nose bloodied by a cowardly attack from a morally bankrupt thug.

Even the witless rhetoric of George W. Bush following the attack didn’t weaken that resolve very much, although nobody I know hereabouts was terribly thrilled to hear comments like "if you’re not with us, you’re against us" nor the hardening of the Canada-U.S. border nor other post-911 measures which seemed to strain our renowned friendship.  But we weren’t that surprised either – everyone knew the U.S. was going to react very forcefully and with far less attention to the niceties of diplomacy in the process.  And when Kahdr’s name came up in the news as being involved as he was in the incident described above – it was hard to feel very much sympathy initially.  The first question that popped into everyone’s mind was "if he’s not guilty, then what was he even doing there?"  And the answer to that and other questions didn’t come quickly.  After all, it’s not like anyone was in a mood to give the kid a microphone.

But the facts are now well-known and among them is that, even in a time of war (which this isn’t exactly), there are minimum rules for treatment – particularly of minors and particularly for minors who were most likely under an abusive parental compunction to join Al-Quaeda.  And this is the part where I get very disappointed with my countrymen: it seems that they’ve forgotten this point.  Too often, people (not just in Canada) are too-ready to be ignorant and forget little things like due process and all that means and why such things exist.  Rhetoric like "but he killed someone" gets in the way of reason and drown out otherwise obvious arguments like "that’s not proven yet", or "he hasn’t even been charged with anything", or "repatriation doesn’t mean he comes home and never faces trial", or "he’s already been in jail nearly 7 years – without process, charge, trial, etc., etc.".

There is a minimum standard for justice and I have to wonder whether that very soldier Kahdr is accused of killing was fighting just for the sake of fighting or if he was there because, like so many of his brethren, he was flighting to defend the cause of freedom – a world ruled by justice, not savagery, reason not rhetoric, peace and order not chaos and terrorism.  And if the Canadian government is really going to cling to this idea – the last of any western nation to do so – that a trial at Guantanamo Bay can deliver these things with the full support of the Canadian people….then the Canadian people are far, far more ignorant than I ever would have thought possible and I feel genuinely sorry for this country of mine.

Fortunately, I do have faith.  I believe with these images playing that the severe, ignorant view that seemed to be taking hold (with some interpretation of that data by the punditry) will soften and that Kahdr will come home at some point, not too far off.  It’s said that, because of his experiences, Kahdr is feeling betrayed by everyone – very likely by the people of Canada.  I hope we have the good sense to show that, as a people, we won’t abandon our own and can recognize that even were he guilty (as he very well may be, I admit), there’s still a minimum standard for even the guiltiest Canadians which we will all stand up for.  Not because we favour the criminal over the victim, but because Canada stands for a minimum of human decency and justice – the things that our soldiers are in that country fighting to preserve!

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Terry Glavin

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