It seems nobody is very happy about the multi-million-dollar payout to Omar Khadr. In a sharp rebuke to the government of Canada, the Sun newspaper chain claimed, “… the $10.5 million payout to Canadian-born al-Qaeda combatant Omar Khadr will be a millstone around the Liberal’s neck …”
The editorial went on to say, “rewarding and then apologizing to Omar Khadr, expert bomb maker and the killer-by-grenade of U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Speer, is a slap in the face of every Canadian who has ever worn our country’s military uniform.”
Why would the Canadian government pay money to a terrorist?
Not surprisingly, the logic is complicated and many of the facts are hotly disputed. But some things are clear.
Omar Ahmed Sayid Khadr was born in Toronto on September 19, 1986. At 10 years of age Omar moved with his family to Afghanistan where his father worked with a NGO (non-governmental organization). It’s clear that while in Afghanistan Omar received military-type training, including one-on-one weapons training.
It is also confirmed that 15-year-old Omar Khadr, in the company of Islamist fighters, was injured during an attack by U.S. forces on an isolated compound in Afghanistan in 2002.
What happened next is troubling.
While still unconscious, Omar was captured and taken to Bagram air base, where he was interrogated. Denied medical treatment for his wounded eye, Khadr was subject to abuse, having his hands tied above a door of his cell where he was hung for long periods of time. He was forced to carry five-gallon pails of water to aggravate his wounded shoulder. Denied access to a washroom, Omar was forced to urinate on himself.
While Khadr was being detained, Canadian consular officials sent letters stating, “various laws of Canada and the United States require special treatment of Khadr due to his age” (15) and requesting that, as he was technically a ‘child soldier’, he not be transferred to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Unfortunately, that’s precisely where he was taken.
Guantanamo is no place for the faint of heart. Omar was kept in Camp V, the highest maximum-security division. He was placed in solidary confinement for long periods of time, denied medical treatment, interrogated harshly and, during interrogations, threatened with rendition to Egypt where he was assured unspeakable tortures awaited.
While being held in Guantanamo, Khadr was tried under special military tribunal for the murder of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Speer. It was alleged that during the fighting at the compound, Omar threw the grenade that killed the Sargent.
At his second military tribunal trial in 2006, more detail (a five-page “OC-1” witness report) of the firefight came to light. A witness revealed that Khadr was discovered unconscious, probably stunned by the initial blast that destroyed the compound and was not the only survivor. Reports emerged that an adult Mujahedeen fighter had also survived and it was this fighter, subsequently shot and killed, who most probably had thrown the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer.
In 2010 with controversy swirling around illegal renditions, allegations of torture and a military tribunal process that was growing ever more uncertain, political pressure began to grow on the Bush administration. It was at this time that the U.S. began pressuring Canadian officials to repatriate Omar Khadr.
After the election of Barack Obama, American officials began working feverishly to find a face saving solution. They landed on a plea bargain whereby Omar would plead guilty to all charges in exchange for an additional year in Guantanamo and repatriation to Canada (this is vigorously denied by Canadian officials).
Despite the denials, Omar accepted the plea bargain and was transferred to Canadian custody on September 29, 2012, to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Romeo Dallaire, a child soldier advocate, publicly advocated for Omar Khadr’s repatriation, “Omar has been 10 years in jail already, in a jail many considered illegal …”. Canada is a strong supporter of rehabilitating child soldiers and in 2002 signed on to the optional protocol that requires signatories to give special consideration to captured enemy fighters under the age of 18.
Whatever else you may believe, Omar Khadr fits the classic definition of a child soldier: recruited by unscrupulous groups at a young age, forced to fight battles they barely understand.
Clearly, the child soldier argument would support Khadr’s repatriation decision, despite the fact it was strongly opposed by both Liberal and Conservative governments. Whether the subsequent Liberal apology and the $10.5 million payout in compensation for his rights violations is politically wise remains to be seen.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.