Ah yes, the Omar Khadr story. How long has it been going on now? Since July 2002? Is it really more than 8 years? And now this storey is finally coming to some kind of resolution.
Early on in his stay in Guantanamo Bay Omar Khadr became something of a poster child, especially in Canada, for both sides of the argument about the legitimacy of the American process for dealing with suspected terrorists. And, indeed, for the whole “War on Terror” being conducted by George Bush and his closest advisors.
Khadr was different. He had been immersed in Islamist propaganda since he was a young child, there were videos showing him in training camps, and there were witnesses who were convinced he threw the grenade that killed a US soldier. Statements by his family members didn’t help either. And of course he is a Canadian who can speak English.
On the other side of the argument was the fact that he was being held in an extra-legal prison, charged with offences that he had no serious chance of defending himself against. If the case was such a slam dunk, why not try him in the regular court system?
It is no secret that the Gitmo process has been roundly condemned around the world and denounced – even by Obama, Clinton et al during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Both perspectives are recognized in the sentence that is being handed down this week: 8 years, the first of which will be served in the U.S. after which time he will become eligible for transfer to Canada. Many commentators think he will be eligible for parole almost as soon as he hits Canadian soil.
The Canadian government has always tried to disassociate itself from the case saying it is a U.S. legal affair. They continue to do so, or at least are pretending to do so, claiming that the Canadian government has made no deal.
We’ll see. I suspect they are getting a feel for Canadian public opinion, and will eventually come around when things have cooled down. Right now, judging from the comments in newspapers like the Toronto Sun, there are a lot of Canadians who think Khadr should stay at Guantanamo until he rots. They don’t seem to realize that even the Americans are not going to let that happen.
But in spite of the strong feelings of Canadians (and Americans) about Khadr, there are bigger issues here. Most obviously there is the willingness of the leaders of avowedly freedom-loving countries like the U.S. to manipulate the law to override or circumvent legal protections we all take for granted in western democracies.
There is also the obvious use of the “War on Terror” to justify government actions that under more normal circumstances would be open to much more serious question: ramping up military spending, invading other countries, tightening up our borders, arming our border guards, building more jails and “getting tough on crime”. Even though the crime rate is going down and everybody knows that jails are a breeding ground for criminality.
I don’t expect the Khadr case to go away any time soon.