It may be true that Omar Ahmed Khadr killed (SFC) Christopher James Speer. However, can he really be blamed? He was a child and the home he was in was being attacked, but according to Col.Jackson (defence attorney): "Omar Khadr was a lawful target but he didn't have the right to fight back."
You, like me, probably think that this is disgustingly unfair. But even if we were to condemn Omar Ahmed Khadr, throwing the deadly grenade, he was a child brought up in an environment of extremism, surrounded by people who thought differently from the rest of us; it wasn’t Omar’s fault, he didn’t choose his father or environment.
Child soldiers are almost universally seen as victims rather than criminals. These children have had the innocence of their childhood snatched away from them, when they are at their most vulnerable. Put simply, a child soldier has suffered the worst kind of child abuse, usually by people they trusted or looked up to. Almost universally, the sentence given to child soldiers is therapy, rather than prison and nobody (almost) thinks they should be tortured.
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) does not specify an age below which it becomes illegal to try a child as an adult, instead it gives woolly recommendations that child soldiers should be treated leniently etc.
Article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is the clearest of all, as you can see from the link, Omar Khadr enjoyed practically none of these guarantees. Article 37 of the same convention, is also of interest, as it prohibits torture and inhumane treatment amongst other things, that we know Omar and his fellow child inmates suffered greatly. Despite humanitarian law not being clear on this issue, the ICC which deals with war criminals (Omar’s grenade has been termed a war crime), has in article 26 of its statute prohibited the prosecution of individuals less than eighteen at the time of the commission of the offence.
After the firefight in which Speer and many of the inhabitants of the house, in which Omar was were killed, Omar survived with two bullets in the back, two in the shoulders and various injuries to the thighs, all of which had been fired after he was found crouching blinded, away from the fight. Omar was then carted off to the notorious Bagram Airfield Detention Centre, which Amnesty International has on numerous occasions tied with torture. At Bagram, Omar was routinely tortured and abused, he was denied medical treatment and his wounds were aggravated in various ways as punishment during interrogations. The result of denied medical treatment and denial of sunglasses meant that Omar’s damaged eye worsened and he has now lost his eyesight. After his stint at Bagram, Omar was transported to Guantanamo Bay, where the abuse would not only intensify, but he would be held without charge or trial and with no communication with his family.
The United States of America paints itself as the bastion of democracy, freedoms and human rights, yet when we compare their actions with ‘third-world and backward’ African states like the DRC, Sudan, Burundi and Sierra Leone we find that these African countries are massively better and more just than the U.S. Most nations see the child soldier as a victim rather than a criminal and use their efforts in an attempt to rehabilitate the child. However, children in the custody of the Pentagon are treated in ways that violate laws, aswell as moral decency and Omar is not alone. The US admitted that 12 juveniles were held in Guantanamo, but Wikileaks revealed that that number was actually 21. Mohammed Ismail and Assad Ullah were just thirteen years old at the time of arrest. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani was pushed to the absolute limit and this resulted in his suicide on June 10th 2006, there is evidence that U.S. soldiers bought him for just $10 when they were looking for “Arab looking guys”. Al-Zahrani, like the others was never charged, never tried and never convicted, assuming that all people are innocent till proven guilty, Al-Zahrani was innocent. Furthermore, he could not be considered a prisoner of war because he was not a combatant and was of no strategic value.
For a very long time the Canadian government was not only indifferent, but at times seemed supportive of the U.S. government’s treatment of its citizen. However, throughout his incarceration there has been support for the repatriation and rehabilitation of Omar by members of the Canadian community. Compare this to the deafening silence from the British (especially the Muslims), as well as Muslims all over the world, particularly when it comes to the cases of Babar Ahmed and Aafia Siddiqui amongst many others (many, if not most of Guantanamo and Bagram’s prisoners are innocent or of no strategic value), some of whom were arrested for wearing a 1980s Casio watch, looking Arab or were just bought.
It was this support that eventually forced the Canadian government to accept the repatriation of Omar. This is a lesson that we must learn from. The fact that so many innocent people have suffered in this manner, under our noses, is the greatest shame and dishonour that we can have. History will remember us as those who stood by and watched their children get tortured, their women raped and their brothers murdered, while doing nothing to help. Not to mention that Al-Basir (All seeing), Al-Hakam (The Judge) will ask us what we did on the day of judgement. We can’t save those who have gone, or eradicate the suffering that has been inflicted already, however, it is not too late to make a change, there are still plenty of people in these hell holes, who can be saved through our petitioning and campaigns and there is so much we can do for future generations.
This piece is not just to highlight the savagery of Washington, it is also as a reminder and perhaps even a prompt that we need to get our politicians to amend (or even start the discussion) IHL concerning child soldiers.