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Omar Khadr case a reminder that life isn’t always fair, or equitable

By Scott Taylor      

The multi-million-dollar settlement the government paid to Khadr ignited valid howls of outrage, but what’s the dollar value of the lost youth of a 15-year-old boy soldier?

Protesters march in Washington, D.C., in 2012 against the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba where Canadian Omar Khadr was held for nearly a decade. Photograph via Elvert Barnes
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OTTAWA—On March 25, an Alberta judge ruled that convicted war criminal Omar Khadr has completed his eight-year sentence.

The final four years of Khadr’s sentence were served on conditional release in Edmonton.

When Chief Justice Mary Moreau of the Court of Queen’s Bench gave her ruling, which pronounced Khadr’s punishment completed, she ignited the powder keg of polemic emotions that have shrouded this young man’s controversial case for a decade and a half.

For many Canadians, Khadr deserves no pity. For those in the “hang ‘em high” camp, Khadr fought in Afghanistan as an Islamic extremist, with links to al-Qaeda. He was captured following a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, by United States special forces.

During that skirmish, Khadr committed a war crime when he threw a grenade that killed U.S. Army sergeant Christopher Speer. At the scene of the battle, the U.S. military found a video depicting Khadr being instructed on how to build an improvised explosive device (IED).

Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and since Canadian soldiers fought alongside American troops inside Afghanistan, some believe he is a traitor. The fact that the vast majority of Canada’s 158 soldiers killed and 2,000 wounded during our 12-year deployment to Afghanistan were the result of IEDs makes Khadr’s treason all the more despicable in the eyes of his haters.

This is why it is important to remove the emotion from the Khadr equation and to analyze the actual facts of the case.

Yes, Khadr was born in Canada to immigrant parents from Egypt and Palestine. His father, Ahmed, was an Islamic extremist with ties to al-Qaeda. Without question, Omar would have grown up in a household wherein he was indoctrinated by his father’s Islamic fundamentalist teachings.

That said, at the time of the 2002 firefight, Omar was only 15 years of age. He was a boy in a war zone, and that can only be blamed on the father.

As a former soldier myself, I have always found it extremely strange that the U.S. authorities would have charged young Khadr with “murder in violation of the laws of war.”

The July 2002 battle in the village of Ayub Kheyl in eastern Afghanistan was not even a surprise ambush. In fact, the U.S. special forces had surrounded the village knowing it contained Taliban and other foreign fighters. U.S. Apache helicopter gunships flew over the collection of huts and A-10 Warthog attack aircraft dropped multiple 225-kilogram bombs.

It was the final stages of this combat, as the U.S. commandos were mopping up, that the grenade was thrown, which took the life of Speer. There is no eyewitness testimony claiming Khadr threw that deadly projectile, but he was the only enemy fighter captured alive. Barely so, at that. Khadr was shot three times in the chest and only survived thanks to the skill and professionalism of U.S. Army medics.

I’m thoroughly baffled as to how killing an enemy soldier in battle constitutes murder. Especially when the murderer was himself a 15-year-old boy who was grievously wounded in the firefight.

Following his capture, Khadr was detained in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Despite the fact that he is a Canadian citizen, and a minor in the eyes of the law at the time of infraction, the U.S. considered him an “illegal combatant.”

As such, he was not afforded the basic rights of a recognized prisoner of war as defined by the Geneva Conventions, nor those legal rights afforded to the U.S. citizens charged under criminal law.

In 2010, eight years into his custody in Guantanamo Bay, Khadr pleaded guilty to the war crime charges as part of a plea bargain that would ultimately repatriate him to Canada.

It is worth noting that at the same juncture, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a Canadian intelligence interrogation of Khadr while he was in custody at Guantanamo “offend[s] the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

It was the gist of that ruling that resulted in Khadr’s successful lawsuit against the Canadian government for their failure to protect his rights as a Canadian citizen.

In 2017, Canada agreed to pay Khadr $10.5-million in compensation for his suffering at the hands of the U.S. authorities.

This payout generated howls of indignation from Canadian veterans groups and their supporters who pointed out the discrepancy in payments made to the families of those soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

The lump sum death benefit for a Canadian soldier killed an active duty is only $400,000.

In my opinion this is a valid argument, but on the flip side: what dollar value would you put on the lost youth of a 15-year-old boy soldier who was first victimized by his radicalized father, then tortured and abused by the U.S. military, and ultimately—according to the Supreme Court of Canada—neglected by his own government?

According to a Utah State Court ruling, Tabitha Speer, Christopher Speer’s widow is entitled to US$134-million from Khadr as compensation for her husband’s “murder.”

In an unrelated observation, last year boxer Floyd Mayweather made a reported US$275-million for a single fight. Just a reminder that life is not always fair—nor equitable.

Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

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