The case of Omar Khadr, the Canadian born detainee at Guantanamo Bay prison on trial by military commission for alleged crimes he committed at the age of fifteen, should be cause for American reflection on our values. There is talk that a plea bargain agreement is in the works, but the true negotiation that has taken place is between Americans and their values. There is little time remaining to set things right.
The America that I know, love, and served stands for the rule of law, justice, and our principles. It does not stand for revenge. Yet, there is only one conclusion in evaluating the U.S. government’s actions in the case of Khadr, the first child soldier ever tried by a western nation for war crimes: America is motivated by vengeance. This is evidenced by the torture and abuse of Khadr in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, including solitary confinement for extended periods of time and other abusive treatment such as the use of military working dogs to intimidate and threats of rape.
This is in contradiction to America’s moral voice in the international community on the treatment of child soldiers. The United States is in violation of The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“Optional Protocol”), which we ratified in 2002 and requires rehabilitation for child soldiers, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, international juvenile justice standards, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It’s inconsequential what acts Khadr committed as a child soldier. The United States government has decried as much in public in other cases of child soldiers. In a speech on September 16, 2010, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council debate on Somalia, stated:
The United States strongly condemns the use of children as well to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers.
Support for Khadr’s trial is driven by a demand for justice for Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speers who died from a grenade explosion during Khadr’s capture (it’s not clear if Khadr threw the grenade due to conflicting witness statements). We should mourn the deaths of our brothers-in-arms, but justice for Speers will not come from the trial of a former child soldier. Justice is trial and punishment for those who trained him. If they are lawful enemy combatants in Afghanistan, then it would justify military action. Some justice was served on October 2, 2003, in South Warziristan, Pakistan, when Omar Khadr’s father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an Al Qaeda supporter who was responsible for his son’s militancy, was killed in a raid by Pakistani forces.
While leading interrogations in Iraq, I faced a similar situation when a known Al Qaeda operations officer who groomed suicide bombers was killed when those same suicide bombers detonated themselves during a raid of his home by my task force. His surviving orphaned sons were brought to our prison while we attempted to locate relatives. Instead of using abusive interrogation techniques, the boys were coddled and comforted, resulting in one of them providing a wealth of accurate and timely intelligence information. That information led to numerous successful missions against Al Qaeda’s suicide bombing network. If Khadr had been treated similarly, who knows what information he may have provided based on knowledge of his father’s activities. Instead, we’re left with a stain on our American image as a country that tortures child soldiers and then prosecutes them. This is another tool in the box for Al Qaeda recruiters.
The case of Omar Khadr represents the continuation of Bush-era policies that run in complete contradiction to both our operational objectives in defeating Al Qaeda and in preserving our principles in the face of an enemy that calls us hypocrites. Our compassion for child soldiers should compel us to repatriate Omar Khadr to Canada. The man that trained him is dead and justice has been served. What’s left to do now is rehabilitate, both ourselves and Khadr. It is time to release and repatriate him to Canada.