By: Charles Philippe Lamy, Zach Morgenstern
Arrested at 15-years of age, Omar Khadr garnered Canadian media attention for his long imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. Khadr is currently serving an eight year prison sentence for murdering an American soldier. He is now preparing to appeal by invoking the argument that the murder he is charged with should not constitute a war crime. In this debate, Charles Lamy takes a stand in favor of the American military-judicial system’s initial ruling, while Zach Morgenstern presents the case for Khadr’s acquittal.As always, the views expressed here are solely those of the writers and not necessarily those of the entire newspaper editorial staff.
Criminal: Charles Lamy
Will ideology trump justice? This is the question at the heart of the case of Omar Khadr. An extremist ideological faction has operated for nearly a decade to manipulate the justice system, not for Mr. Khadr’s benefit but rather to strike at his ostensible oppressors. This campaign that seeks to reframe the terrorist as the victim, the legitimate government as the cruel oppressor. We must uphold Mr. Khadr’s sentence, or lose yet another battle to protect the impartiality of the courts, the righteousness of western values, and the work of our troops.
Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to five counts of war crimes in 2010, and received an eight-year sentence. Sam Morison, an American lawyer representing Khadr, will launch an appeal to the US Court of Military Commission Review. Morison claims that Khadr is “an innocent person because he never committed a crime.” Morison argues that since Khadr used “a conventional lawful weapon” of warfare to kill Sgt. Christopher Speer, he is innocent of a war crime.
This appeal should not be heard, and if heard should be denied. There is no cause to free Khadr before 2018, and indeed far more cause to keep him incarcerated for a longer period of time. We should remember that Khadr was born in Toronto, son a high-profile member of Al-Qaeda, and was inspired by the attacks on 9/11 to join the terrorist efforts in Afghanistan. In this capacity he collaborated in the pursuit of terror and violence. Khadr would kill Sgt. Speer with a grenade before being captured by American forces.
Khadr has been portrayed as a victim and as an unwilling participant who should be absolved of all responsibility for his acts of terror. He has found sympathetic teary-eyed ideologues in Canada and the United States who are all too happy to fight the state, seeking only the right victim to champion for their cause.
Morison stated, “If the government’s choice to detain a gravely injured 15-year-old child as an adult in a maximum security prison and to subject him to a systematic regime of physical and psychological abuse does not shock the conscience, then nothing does.” This is delusion laced with fanaticism. They seem ashamed to live in a civilization that stands as the bulwark against injustice and terror, ignoring several facts in the process. While Khadr was indeed gravely injured, these troops provided this enemy soldier with expert medical care, saving both Khadr’s sight and his life. While Khadr was indeed interrogated, it would reason that this is fairly necessary when one potentially has information of terrorist activities. While Khadr was indeed 15, he is not a ‘child soldier.’ The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38, explains that individuals over the age of 15 can volunteer for service as adult soldiers.
We are told that Khadr’s confessed crimes are not crimes at all, due to a series of technicalities. We are expected to be sympathetic for his age, his time incarcerated, and his treatment during interrogations. I am indeed sympathetic for Khadr’s suffering, but substantially more sympathetic to the memory of heroic soldiers. There is no evasion of the facts: Khadr is guilty and will serve due time. Individuals must ultimately remain responsible for their actions regardless of how appealing it is to play victim. There will be no end in sight to these legal challenges, not until Khadr finishes his prison term and these radical ideologues find their next victim to exploit.
The only solution is to refuse to be ashamed of our values and our beliefs. We must instead possess the moral courage to recognize the good, and not fear enforcing it against those who terrorize for its destruction.
Photo Credit/ Khadr family
Victim: Zach Morgenstern
Followers of the Canadian news-media will no doubt know the name Omar Khadr. Born in Scarborough to Palestinian and Egyptian-Canadians, Khadr was arrested and eventually convicted for killing Sgt. Chris Speer, a US army medic. Khadr was the last Westerner to leave Guantanamo Bay, arriving at Kingtston’s maximum security Millhaven Institution in 2012, before being transferred to a maximum-security institution in Edmonton earlier this year. For years, much of the rhetoric surrounding Khadr’s case focused on his age, his nationality, and his potential innocence. Now, however, Khadr’s lawyers have finally decided to address the more fundamental flaw in his case—that he was a victim of victor’s justice.
This is not to say the older pro-Khadr arguments aren’t valid. When captured, Khadr was found face-down and gravely wounded with shrapnel. This debilitating position, combined with the fact that another potential culprit was found next to Khadr, makes the argument that he was not guilty of his official crime convincing. On top of that, the various forms of torture he was subject to including sleep deprivation, dog attacks, simulated drowning, etc. make his confessions dubious at best. The fact that he was 15 at the time of his arrest is also essential to the case, for not only does it explain why Khadr might have felt coerced by his father and his peers into playing a militant role, but it also shows the hypocrisy of the US and Canadian governments. Canada and the US both officially oppose the usage of child soldiers, suggesting that they view child soldiers as victims—not perpetrators of war. This spirit of this principle has clearly been ignored in the Khadr case. Even Khadr’s Canadian citizenship is relevant. The supreme court of Canada found on numerous occasions that Canada had violated Khadr’s rights through failing to repatriate him and through illegally sharing information on him with the US government. So long as Canada claims that rights come with Canadian citizenship, its government should be heavily scrutinized for failing to grant rights to Khadr.
The longer Khadr has been imprisoned, however, the more time a counter-narrative has had to develop. Sun News’ Ezra Levant, for instance, has written a book denouncing the “whitewashing of Omar Khadr,” and the perception of the average Sun News viewer (as represented on the Sun News Facebook page) seems to be that Khadr should be left in solitary confinement forever, if not hanged. The arguments proposed by mainstream Canadian liberals and human rights organizations based around Khadr’s legal rights and potential innocence are legitimate, but they don’t challenge the fundamental assumptions of the anti-Khadr right—that Khadr has held a militant, anti-western ideology and thus should be punished as a terrorist.
Luckily, Khadr’s lawyers have decided to make a paradigm-shifting move. Rather than simply asserting that Khadr did not commit war crimes, they are appealing his sentence by arguing that the act he allegedly committed shouldn’t have been considered a war crime to begin with. Khadr allegedly killed a US soldier with a conventional weapon. To imply this is a war crime, or, for that matter, a crime at all, is to co-opt the supposedly impartial legal system and use it as a weapon. The typical brute logic of war is such that if you challenge an invading adversary on the battlefield you risk the ultimate punishment, death. The Khadr case, thus far, has extended the parameters over which this logic applies. If Khadr’s sentence serves as precedent, participants on the losing side of conflicts risk heavy consequences not simply on the battlefield, but in the supposedly peaceful legal arena. The absurdity of being charged with murder in the context of war, makes Khadr’s case sound like something out of Catch-22 or Dr. Strangelove, in which fictional US President Merkin Muffley famously shouted “You can’t fight here! This is the war room!”
Khadr’s case is no doubt as complicated as it is tragic. Accepting this latest argument of Khadr’s defense (ie. that murder is not a war crime) would require that the US’s military courts defy their self-interested instincts. This argument also goes against the instincts of the Canadian and American publics, the vast majority of whom cannot possibly imagine being in Khadr’s shoes. The virtue of justice, however, is not one of instinctual sentiments or self-interest. Khadr’s case is clearly one where he was punished for being on a side in a war that ultimately failed to protect him from capture. If we reject the brutal realism of the Melian dialogue—the notion that “might makes right”—then, whatever questions we may have about his backstory, we must continue to call for the acquittal of Omar Khadr.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-opinion/debate-omar-khadr-criminal-or-victim/.