Op-Ed: Omar Khadr’s Saga Still Not Over

The Toronto Star is reporting that the lawyers for former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr have stepped down as his counsel in a case against the Canadian Federal Government. Khadr, the only Canadian imprisoned at the disgraced Cuban detention centre, is suing the Federal Government for violating his constitutional rights. His former counsel, John Norris and Byrdie Bethell, stated they were not able to disclose their reasons for stepping down. This small occurrence should remind Canadians that Khadr’s saga still isn’t over, despite ten years of supposed legal processes.

Noriss and Bethell replaced his previous lawyers Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling. Edney in particular had been a fierce critic of Khadr’s treatment under the discredited military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees. Although many other foreign nationals were brought back to their home countries to face justice, the current Canadian government chose to leave Khadr under a process ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The Canadian Department of Justice (DOJ) even appealed a Canadian case for Khadr’s repatriation all the way up to the Supreme Court (SCC), in a further attempt to keep him out of Canada. The SCC ruled in Khadr’s favour, but the DOJ dragged its heels for a year before finally bringing him north.

Khadr was arrested in Afghanistan for the murder for a US Special Forces soldier in 2002. He was only 15 years old at the time although he was not treated as a child soldier. The evidence surrounding his crime was questionable. Khadr languished in detention for eight years before finally signing a guilty plea for a reduced sentence and extradition to Canada. Khadr’s treatment has improved in Canada but is still deplorable. Vic Toews, Minister for Public Safety, recently characterized Khadr as a radicalized militant before he had even had a parole hearing. Many legal experts felt this may have jeopardized his parole process.

Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he should have been tried and detained in Canada. He should not have been put through the farcical process of the Pentagon’s military commission. Instead of having his interrogation process assisted by CSIS, he should have faced a fair trial in Canada. Omar Khadr will soon be eligible for parole, although his status as a dangerous offender may keep his freedom unlikely for another two years. Regardless, the past ten years have likely not made Khadr a loving believer in the judicial system or the righteousness of governments. Due to Canada’s unwillingness to repatriate him, Omar Khadr has still spent more time in Guantanamo Bay than in Canada. The irony here is that in 2004 a Foreign Affairs bureaucrat who spoke with Khadr famously called him a “thoroughly screwed up young man.” I would argue that it is only a person who has incredibly strong mental fortitude who could endure such a horrific miscarriage of justice.