A few random thoughts on Omar Khadr

By now, it should be no secret to any of you who have read this blog over the years (thank you!) that I am utterly against the so-called War on Terror. I’ve repeatedly said that it is not a war against terrorism, but a war OF terrorism; that it perpetuates what it is supposedly meant to stamp out, and that it is a vicious circle. And you probably have a fair idea that I’m not a fan of anyone who just slaps the “terrorist” label on someone with whom they disagree, or whose country their country is trying to repress, and who dares to fight back.

In other words: If you know this blog, you probably know where I’m about to go with this. But what you probably don’t know is just how much more there is to this story.

There is, for instance, the fact that Omar Khadr was a child soldier, whose fanatical parents dragooned him into fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is the element of brainwashing, or at the very least, of a teenage schoolboy trying desperately to please his elders, when he wasn’t trying to hide from them. In other words: He did not actually volunteer. He was all of 11 years old when he was first sent off to war.

There’s also the salient fact that Omar Khadr is demonstrably innocent, but has been forced to plead guilty just so he could be sent home to Canada. There is no solid evidence that he threw the grenade that killed Chris Speer; in fact, the preponderance of evidence points the other way.

And there is the fact that in the same firefight, Omar himself was nearly killed. A big hole was blown into his chest. He was blinded in one eye. That he survived at all is remarkable, and might be attributed to the fact that he was only 15 years old at the time of his near-death and arrest; a boy in his mid-teens can recover from even a grievous injury much faster than a man twice his age. And make no mistake, Omar WAS grievously injured.

There is also the fact that the injured and innocent Omar was tortured to obtain a “confession”. Physically and mentally, this teenage boy — this brainwashed child soldier — was put through the wringer. When he maintained his innocence, he was accused of lying, and subjected to more torture. This is of a pattern with everyone the US military forces arrested in Afghanistan, but it is particularly heinous in this instance, because Omar Khadr is a perfect storm: He is innocent; he was too young to be held criminally responsible; and, oh yeah — he is a Canadian.

Which leads me to the nub of this matter, and why I as a Canadian am disgusted by so much about this whole affair. Omar Khadr wanted to come home to Canada. But the only way he could get here — and out of Gitmo, where he was being wrongfully held — was to plead guilty. A guilty plea meant he could serve out the remainder of his sentence in Canada.

So Omar pleaded guilty, even though he had, repeatedly and throughout his torture in Bagram and Gitmo, maintained his innocence. He had to fight the Harper Conservative government all the way, because they wanted him to stay right where he was. But eventually he got to come “home” — “home” being the infamous Millhaven penitentiary. He was later transferred to another federal prison, this one in Alberta. There, he was assaulted by white supremacists who, like his US torturers, wanted to make him “pay” for a crime he did not commit. And when finally released from there, he went to live with his lawyer, Dennis Edney, where he slowly decompressed from all the torments he had been through, and began to adjust to a normal life once more.

The Omar we see on the news today, the Omar we know now, is the product of that gradual return to normality. He is a friendly, smiling, apparently benevolent young man. He has hopes and dreams, and he plans to do things with his life. Good things: an education, a career, a marriage, a family. He harbors no ill will toward anyone. Which is all the more remarkable when you consider how much malice he endured from others, and how many times they nearly killed him.

But the Omar his detractors “know” — note the quotes, there for a reason — is still a terrorist who hasn’t paid for what he allegedly did. It was not enough, apparently, that he was nearly blown to bits and then buried under the rubble of that crummy little compound in Afghanistan, where his enemies literally walked all over him before pulling him out, barely alive. Nor was it enough that he was then physically and mentally tortured in two countries. And all the proof of his innocence isn’t enough to prove that he was not guilty to those already convinced that he IS guilty, simply by way of being a brown Muslim named Omar who fought as a child soldier to defend Afghanistan. No, to them it’s a travesty that he’s out, and worse, that he’s being compensated for his suffering by our own government. Which is Omar’s government too, because he is a Canadian citizen. But seeing as he’s brown, and a Muslim, apparently he’s not Canadian enough for them. To some, he’s no Canadian at all; his color and religion obscure any of the known facts about him.

And some of those detractors even think that he should in fact be paying, not getting paid. One — the widow of the man he didn’t kill — tried unsuccessfully to get his compensation payment frozen so that her lawyers could carve out a chunk of it. She would do better to sue her own government, since it was they who sent her husband to his death. More specifically, she ought to sue Dubya Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. They profited handsomely off that war; I’m sure they’re good for however much she feels is a fair amount. They probably won’t even miss it. Remember, this was not a war on or against terror; it was a war in which terror was used by the US military to try to beat Afghanistan into submission to foreign energy interests: oil companies, gas companies, pipeline companies. The potential long-term profits of that war are in the trillions of dollars.

It is, in short, an obscenity.

Which is why Omar Khadr’s $10.5 million (Canadian) compensation seems a very bare minimum by comparison. It could have been at least four times higher. Given how our own government was complicit in the US’s human rights violations (and not just with Omar, but also Maher Arar), we owe him a lot more than he’s getting. The money, which sounds like a lot to the average person, is actually not that much. In fact, it’s the least that we owe him.

And the only real scandal here is that we Canadians are the only ones paying.

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