Op-ed by Omar Khadr on National Security & Human Rights

Op-ed by Omar Khadr, Bowden Prison Canada | 2014 10 28

27 Omar KhadrTen years ago the Canadian government established a judicial inquiry into the case of Maher Arar. That inquiry, over the course of more than two years of ground-breaking work, examined how Canada’s post-Sept. 11 security practices led to serious human rights violations, including torture.

At that same time, 10 years ago and far away from a Canadian hearing room, I was mired in a nightmare of injustice, insidiously linked to national security. I have not yet escaped from that nightmare.

As Canada once again grapples with concerns about terrorism, my experience stands as a cautionary reminder. Security laws and practices that are excessive, misguided or tainted by prejudice can have a devastating human toll.

A conference Wednesday in Ottawa, convened by Amnesty International, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and the University of Ottawa, will reflect on these past 10 years of national security and human rights. I will be watching, hoping that an avenue opens to leave my decade of injustice behind.

I was apprehended by U.S. forces during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. I was only 15 years old at the time, propelled into the middle of armed conflict I did not understand or want. I was detained first at the notorious U.S. air base at Bagram, Afghanistan; and then I was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay for close to 10 years. I have now been held in Canadian jails for the past two years.

From the very beginning, to this day, I have never been accorded the protection I deserve as a child soldier. And I have been through so many other human rights violations. I was held for years without being charged. I have been tortured and ill-treated. I have suffered through harsh prison conditions. And I went through an unfair trial process that sometimes felt like it would never end.

I am now halfway through serving an eight-year prison sentence imposed by a Guantánamo military commission; a process that has been decried as deeply unfair by UN human rights experts. That sentence is part of a plea deal I accepted in 2010.

Remarkably, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided in my favour on two separate occasions; unanimously both times. Over the years, in fact, I have turned to Canadian courts on many occasions, and they have almost always sided with me. That includes the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Alberta Court of Appeal.

In its second judgement, the Supreme Court found that Canadian officials violated the Charter of Rights when they interrogated me at Guantánamo Bay, knowing that I had been subjected to debilitating sleep deprivation through the notorious ‘frequent flyer’ program. The Court concluded that to interrogate a youth in those circumstances, without legal counsel, “offended the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.” That ruling was almost five years ago.

I had assumed that a forceful Supreme Court ruling, coming on top of an earlier Supreme Court win, would guarantee justice. Quite the contrary, it seemed to only unleash more injustice.

Rather than remedy the violation, the government delayed my return from Guantánamo to Canada for a year and aggressively opposed my request not to be held in a maximum security prison. It is appealing a recent Alberta Court of Appeal decision that I should be dealt with as a juvenile under the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

No matter how convincingly and frequently Canadian courts side with me, the government remains determined to deny me my rights.

I will not give up. I have a fundamental right to redress for what I have experienced.

But this isn’t just about me. I want accountability to ensure others will be spared the torment I have been through; and the suffering I continue to endure.

I hope that my experience – of 10 years ago and today – will be kept in mind as the government, Parliament and Canadians weigh new measures designed to boost national security. Canadians cannot settle for the easy rhetoric of affirming that human rights and civil liberties matter. There must be concrete action to ensure that rights are protected in our approach to national security.

National security laws and policies must live up to our national and international human rights obligations. I have come to realize how precious those obligations are.

That is particularly important when it comes to complicity in torture, which is unconditionally banned.

I have also seen how much of a gap there is in Canada when it comes to meaningful oversight of national security activities, to prevent violations.

And I certainly appreciate the importance of there being justice and accountability when violations occur.

I want to trust that the response to last week’s attacks will not once again leave human rights behind. Solid proof of that intention would be for the government to, at a minimum, end and redress the violations I have endured.

 


originally published: Khadr: Misguided security laws take a human toll by Omar Khadr, Ottawa Citizen | 2014 10 28


 

Omar Khadr wins right to sue government for conspiring with US to torture him

The recent decision of Justice Mosley approving Omar’s Amended Statement of Claim (technically the Amended, Amended, Amended Fresh as Amended) marks a recognition that the acts of Canada in relation to Omar’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay need a far greater level of scrutiny than we had previously considered.27 Omar Khadr

To be clear, Justice Mosley’s approval of the Amended Statement of Claim makes no decision about whether or not Canada acted badly in its dealings with Omar while he was captive. But while the earlier versions of the Claim focused on the events surrounding Omar’s interrogation at the hands of Canadian officials, the new version looks back to when Omar was first captured, and includes the time right up to his return to Canada.

This opens up the door to a much broader evaluation of Canada’s actions and will allow the court to answer fundamental questions about the relationship between Canada and the US. Was there a conspiracy to hold Omar captive or to otherwise abuse his rights? Did Canada have a responsibility to pay closer attention to Omar’s treatment while in Guantanamo Bay? Did Canada have a duty not to assist the US authorities’ prosecution of Omar? These and other questions will now be in front of the Court as this case goes forward.

This success is not the end of the story. But perhaps with this new Statement of Claim we are one step closer to getting a full telling of Omar’s time from capture to today and the extent to which our Government participated in that process.

A copy of the Order of Justice Mosley can be found by clicking the following link: Khadr v. Canada, October 23, 2014


Source: Khadr’s Amended Statement of Claim Receives Court Sanction by Phillips Gill LLP | 2014 Oct 24


More on the matterOmar Khadr wins right to to expand $20M suit vs. Canadian government by Colin Perkel, Canadian Press | 2014 Oct 23


 

The Education of Omar Khadr

In the November issue of Walrus magazine, readers can learn more about the personal life of Omar Khadr through the eyes of his volunteer teachers, in particular Arlette Zinck, Professor of English from Kings College University Edmonton. Up to now, Canadians have never hear Khadr tell his own story as the Canadian government has refused all requests from the media to interview him.

Here are a few excerpts from that article:

“Also out of the ordinary that day: the teacher-student roles had been reversed, and Khadr was instructing Zinck. The prisoner had a math final coming up, one of three remaining grade eleven courses, and he needed practice. “He’s a natural science guy,” she explained a few weeks later, when I met her at her house. Math energizes him; it is a more purposeful and logical discipline than literature, sociology, or law. Zinck, on the other hand, is more comfortable discussing John Bunyan and William Shakespeare—“How absolute the knave is!”—rather than absolute numbers”

“She soaked the lessons in CanLit classics, representing every province and territory—from BC’s Obasan, Joy Kogawa’s story of Japanese internment camp survivors, to PEI’s Anne of Green Gables . “If you’re dreaming of home,” she said, “we’ll structure it around a collection of novels about home.”.

“If he were a university student of mine, he would be in the top 5 percent,” said David Goa, director of the University of Alberta’s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life. Zinck asked Goa to teach the prisoner-student about the intersections of faith and science. “I left thinking that this young man, somehow, by the grace of God, has turned prison into a monastery,” Goa recalled.


Read the full article by Omar Mouallem in the November issue of Walrus magazine: The Education of Omar Khadr: A student and teacher cultivate an unlikely friendship


Why is Omar Khadr still in jail?

Aaf Post:

This article Why is Omar Khadr still in jail? is reblogged from Kyle Farquharson’s Blog: Here’s the thing… (see below)


The Harper government unleashed another spiel of melodrama over Omar Khadr last week, when Corrections Canada officials asserted that no media interview of Khadr could take place without extraordinary security measures, including a prison lockdown. (Several media organizations are suing Ottawa for the privilege of interviewing Khadr in the first place.)

For years, our federal administration has treated Khadr as though he were a uniquely pernicious supervillain—repeatedly delaying his repatriation to Canada before relegating him to a maximum-security prison. His security level was finally downgraded last year, from maximum to medium, after a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeal clarified his status as a young offender.

The government’s histrionics seem particularly misplaced, since, if justice were served, Khadr would be a free man by now.

Let’s revisit the facts.

In 2002, when Khadr was 15, a group of U.S. soldiers found him crouched near a pile of rubble in the village of Ayub Kheil in eastern Afghanistan. A firefight had just taken place involving the American sentries, Afghan security forces, and local militants in a residential compound, which escalated to the point where the Americans called in air support. In the course of the battle, a grenade explosion severely wounded U.S. soldier and medic Christopher Speer, who died soon afterward. However, no one who survived the confrontation, with the possible exception of Khadr, can positively identify the person who threw that grenade.

Khadr had already been injured by shrapnel, when a U.S. soldier shot him twice in the back on sight. His captors then transported him to a field hospital at Bagram Air Force Base for medical treatment and, following a period of convalescence, he was detained, interrogated, and transferred to the U.S.-controlled offshore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After eight years in custody without trial, he pleaded guilty to the allegations against him, which included the “murder” of Speer (even though Speer was a member of an occupying army whose death occurred during a firefight), planting of land mines to target Allied convoys, and material support for terrorism. He received an eight-year sentence, with no credit for time served during his indefinite detention.

Crucially, one condition of the agreement was the promise of repatriation. However, the Harper government dragged its feet, obliging Khadr to remain in U.S. custody for an additional two years.

In 2013, Khadr filed a law suit against the Harper regime, alleging that it turned a blind eye to the violations of his rights—including torture. (Among other things, he was subjected to sleep deprivation, physical and mental abuse, and extended periods of solitary confinement.) He identified the opportunity to escape Guantanamo as a key motivating factor in his decision to enter a guilty plea, maintains that he has no memory of having thrown the grenade that killed Speer, and says U.S. officials concocted the plea agreement in its entirety.

Was it the strength of the evidence against Khadr that laid the groundwork for the plea deal? This hardly seems plausible. As mentioned above, Khadr was alleged to have killed a U.S. army medic with a grenade, but no eyewitnesses happened to see him throw it.

Another piece of “evidence” commonly cited, is a video in which Khadr appears to be assembling improvised explosive devices (IEDs). If one assumes that the intent of Khadr or his associates was to violate the laws of war by targeting civilians with said explosives—hardly a safe assumption—he was 15 years old at the time the video was recorded, and there is no evidence linking him directly to attacks against either civilian or military targets.

(On a side note, the moral indignation of the U.S. and Canadian governments on this issue is curious, given that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency outfitted Pashtun tribesmen with anti-aircraft missile launchers, and provided them with plastic explosives, detonators, and explosives training, in order to frustrate a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s. It seems the same people the U.S. government labeled “freedom fighters” when they resisted Soviet occupation, are deemed illegitimate combatants or “terrorists” when they employ similar tactics to resist American/Western occupation.)

Even if one assumes (implausibly, given the dearth of evidence) that Khadr would have been found guilty of murder in Canada, what sort of punishment might he have received? The maximum youth sentence for first-degree murder in Canada is 10 years, with a maximum of six years in custody.

Now consider some of the other factors. Khadr chose to plead guilty—a decision that, in Canada, may have elicited a more lenient sentence. In our country, it is customary (despite the efforts of the Harper government through its Truth in Sentencing Act) for judges to allot credit, on a discretionary basis, for time spent in pre-trial detention. Khadr received no credit whatsoever for his time at Guantanamo prior to the plea deal, and the rights of habeas corpus, a speedy trial, and the option of trial-by-jury were not accorded him. Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act includes a provision that the identity of minor offenders not be publicly disclosed—Khadr clearly enjoys no such protection. Finally, it is fair to assume that few Canadian suspects are subjected to torture, psychological abuse, or severely degrading treatment during pre-trial detention. At Guantanamo, Khadr experienced all three.

What accounts for the Harper government’s aversion to according Khadr the rights to which he is legally entitled? A number of theories have been advanced over the years, and I would suggest that the following interrelated points are especially pertinent:

  • Racism/Islamophobia: Khadr is regarded as a “special” threat because he is physically intimidating to those individuals in whom a lifelong suspicion of brown people has been inculcated. As if that weren’t enough, he is Muslim, and thus extraordinarily susceptible to “radicalization.” (At least, this is what Islamophobes would lead us to believe.) The fact that his father was a jihadi who may have “indoctrinated” his son—a detail with no bearing on the question of justice for Omar Khadr—is an additional source of anxiety nonetheless.
  • Khadr’s is a high-profile case that allows the Conservative Party to pander to the faithful: The longtime defence counsel for Khadr, Dennis Edney, has suggested this on many occasions, and he is likely correct. One of the traditional bastions of support for the Harper Conservatives is the “tough on crime” vote—chiefly, Canadians who believe our criminal justice system is not sufficiently penal. In addition, prominent Conservatives, and Harper in particular, are fond of the intellectually vacuous notion that the people of the free world are at war with nihilistic “terrorists” committed to the destruction of freedom. In many ways, Khadr epitomizes both nostrums simultaneously—thus, from a political standpoint, the Conservatives feel compelled to show him as little clemency as they feasibly can.
  • The Pavlovian effect of the word “terrorist”: Khadr is no ordinary criminal—he is a “terrorist.” When state officials invoke the words “terrorist” or “terrorism,” a marked emotional escalation in the response of the mainstream media and the political establishment usually follows. The word “terrorism” has the effect of instilling fear and suppressing critical thinking, and more importantly, inducing citizens to place an inordinate, almost childlike faith in government, until the “terrorist” threat is defused. Little wonder, then, that so many elected officials employ “terrorism” as a rhetorical tool for manufacturing consent. Any display of leniency toward Khadr would be inconsistent with this paradigm.

Unfortunately, Khadr has become a poster child for the erosion of civil rights—for Muslims in particular—that characterizes the 21st-century War on Terror. We can only hope that a media interview with him (if the Harper government ever allows it) would shed some much-needed light on the subject.

Originally posted on Here's the thing...:

The Harper government unleashed another spiel of melodrama over Omar Khadr last week, when Corrections Canada officials asserted that no media interview of Khadr could take place without extraordinary security measures, including a prison lockdown. (Several media organizations are suing Ottawa for the privilege of interviewing Khadr in the first place.)

For years, our federal administration has treated Khadr as though he were a uniquely pernicious supervillain—repeatedly delaying his repatriation to Canada before relegating him to a maximum-security prison. His security level was finally downgraded last year, from maximum to medium, after a ruling by the Alberta Court of Appeal clarified his status as a young offender.

The government’s histrionics seem particularly misplaced, since, if justice were served, Khadr would be a free man by now.

Let’s revisit the facts.

In 2002, when Khadr was 15, a group of U.S. soldiers found him crouched near a pile of…

View original 1,122 more words

CBC Coverage of Omar Khadr has Misrepresented the Truth

By Kathleen Copps, Free Omar Khadr Now Committee | October 03, 2014


To Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsperson

Re: CBC Ombudsperson’s Response to Kathleen Ruff

 

Dear Ms. Enkin:

From its very title, “The Contentious Case of Omar Khadr”, your dismissal of Kathleen Ruff’s complaint reflects an erroneous assumption that details of the case are open to legitimate debate. This opinion is further revealed in your statement: “It is unrealistic, and not required by policy, to provide all sides of an issue in one short radio news script.” A request for factual reporting cannot be dismissed as one side of an issue.

Kathleen Ruff (former  B.C. Human Rights Commissioner) rightly claimed that by referring to Omar Khadr as “a Canadian who pleaded guilty in a U.S. military court to war-crimes charges”, the CBC ignored crucial facts and thereby contributed to misleading and biased reporting. The terms “pleaded guilty”, U.S. military ‘court’ (in fact, there was no court; only an extra-judicial military ‘commission’) and “war crimes” all imply a lawful legal process-which Omar Khadr was denied. A news item which refers to a guilty ‘plea’ without mention of its inadmissibility in a Canadian court, is grossly misleading and disreputable reporting. You quote Jack Nagler (Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement) that: “Breaking news is not the place for context or nuance”. We agree. It is therefore particularly critical that ‘breaking news’ be scrupulously accurate and not carelessly convey information in direct contrast to the truth. In any case, Omar Khadr’s legal status cannot be considered a part of breaking news. As you pointed out, you have had 12 years to familiarize yourself with the illegalities surrounding the case.

By leaving out essential details (for example: the illegitimacy of the military commission, use of torture to obtain information and extract confessions, violations of Canadian and International guarantees for due process etc) the CBC presented another  misrepresentation of the facts. How can a news article which highlights Omar’s “guilty plea” not point out that the procedure was a judicial sham, a U.S. military kangaroo court deemed illegal by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions,  that he had been tortured, that he was 15 when he was taken captive, that the Canadian Supreme Court has found our government to have been complicit in the violation of his fundamental rights and that the UN Committee against Torture has ruled that Canada redress the violation of those rights?

You rejected Ruff’s complaint because: “Practically speaking, it’s impossible to include all or even a good part of that disputed and often contradictory information in one brief radio news report.” Ms. Ruff did not request that contradictory information be included in your report: ironically, it was her request for the facts that you dismissed.

The stronger one’s convictions about an issue, the stronger the conviction that one’s views should be emphatically reflected.” How disturbing that the CBC, our national public broadcaster, can reduce Ruff’s insistence that the international right to a fair trial and freedom from torture, are merely her personal and subjective “views”. How can we then differentiate your news organization – with its mandate to inform and enlighten Canadians – from other media outlets with much less lofty goals? Why should we care about the future of the CBC if it is not committed to reasonable and accurate reporting in a case that according to Constance Blackstone (Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Ottawa) enshrines the defining moment of our time.

Your rejection of Kathleen Ruff’s complaint is highly troubling because it attests to the fact that the CBC does not appreciate either the unique nature of this case or its relevance for the future of human rights in Canada. A young Canadian, the only Westerner to be released from Guantanamo and imprisoned in his native country, is, two years later, still behind bars and subjected to overt government intervention to keep him there. The fact that you see the case as “contentious” is because CBC has abrogated its responsibility to “inform and enlighten” citizens regarding our government’s complicity in the detainment and torture of a juvenile, their defiance of a unanimous vote of parliament, their refusal to abide by a Supreme Court ruling, their violation of the fundamental rights of a citizen, their maintenance of an illegal incarceration and their unrelenting efforts to demonize Omar Khadr and promote irrational fears and racial bigotry

Please review your dismissal of Kathleen Ruff’s criticisms and offer some reassurance that the CBC is committed to factual reporting and not manufacturing a mythical debate which promotes a continued travesty of injustice for Omar Khadr.

Kathleen Copps,
Free Omar Khadr Now Committee


 

FREE Omar Khadr Now Campaign 

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“Some cases enshrine the defining moments of their time. Omar Khadr’s is one. Future generations will rightly judge our shocking dereliction of responsibility in this matter [and] our collective Canadian failure to extend justice and humanity.” – Constance Backhouse, Distinguished University Professor of Law, University of Ottawa.    

 


 

 

Gail Davidson of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada Slams The Star’s Coverage of Omar Khadr

By Gail Davidson, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Attention: Letter to the Editor, The Star;

Re: “Khadr interview would require prison lockdown, Corrections Canada says. By Michelle Shephard | Oct 02, 2014

Omar Khadr did not “plead guilty”, was not charged with crimes or “war crimes” and was not sentenced. The terms, plead guilty, crimes and sentenced are all words understood to refer to known concepts within our criminal law system. Crimes are violations of statutory penal law; war crimes are serious violations of international humanitarian law; a guilty plea is the accused’s freely and voluntarily given confession in open court to the crime(s) with which he has been charged; statements not made voluntarily are inadmissible; sentencing is the judgement made by a court after an accused is convicted according to law. Imposition of sentence, as done by the Guantanamo Bay military tribunal, “without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people” is a gave breach (i.e. a crime) of the Geneva Conventions and a crime in Canada. In the Omar Khadr case there were no war crimes and no guilty plea and the imposition of sentence was itself a crime.

By using these terms the Star invites readers to accept falsehoods which in turn legitimize atrocious violations of Omar Khadr’s rights, prevent the remediation recommended by the United Nations Committee against Torture and shield state authorities from accountability.

Gail Davidson
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada – LRWC
3220 West 13th Avenue
Vancouver, BC CANADA, V6K 2V5
Tel: +1-604 736-1175
Fax: +1-604 736-1170
Skype: gail.davidson.lrwc
Email: lrwc@portal.ca
Website: http://www.lrwc.org

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by protecting advocacy rights. LRWC campaigns for advocates in danger because of their human rights advocacy, engages in research and education and works in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Gail Davidson of Lawyers’ Rights Watch Slams CBC Coverage of Omar Khadr

By Gail Davidson, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Attention CBC Ombudsperson;

Re: CBC’s Reply to Kathleen Ruff’s complaint on the Omar Khadr case reporting by CBC

Omar Khadr did not ‘plead guilty’, was not charged with ‘crimes’ and has never been ‘sentenced.’

The terms, ‘plead guilty’, ‘crimes’ and ‘sentenced’ are all words understood by Canadians to refer to widely known concepts that are the underpinnings of our criminal law system. Crimes are violations of statutory penal law; a guilty plea is the accused’s freely and voluntarily given confession in open court, to the crime(s) with which he has been charged; sentencing is the judgment made by a court after an accused is convicted in accordance with law. The term ‘court’ refers to a competent, impartial and independent tribunal mandated to conduct a fair hearing, according to law, and in open court. In the Omar Khadr case there were no charges no court, no guilty plea.

Imposition of sentence, as done by the Guantanamo Bay military tribunal, “without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people” is a grave breach (i.e. a crime) of the Geneva Conventions and a crime in Canada.

By using these terms the CBC invited listeners to accept a description of what has transpired in the Omar Khadr case that is not only misleading but wholly false. This in turn promotes acceptance of what the law forbids absolutely, violations of rights by state authorities coupled with denial of remedies. CBC has a duty in all its reporting, to accurately convey and honour the meaning of these important words and the principles of fundamental justice they represent in our legal system: principles upon which we all depend.

I would be pleased to provide correct legal information to CBC and to contribute to fair, accurate and balanced reporting by the CBC on the Omar Khadr case.

Gail Davidson
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada – LRWC
3220 West 13th Avenue
Vancouver, BC CANADA, V6K 2V5
Tel: +1-604 736-1175
Fax: +1-604 736-1170
Skype: gail.davidson.lrwc
Email: lrwc@portal.ca
Website: http://www.lrwc.org

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally by protecting advocacy rights. LRWC campaigns for advocates in danger because of their human rights advocacy, engages in research and education and works in cooperation with other human rights organizations. LRWC has Special Consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Fund to Help Free Omar Khadr

PLEASE HELP DENNIS EDNEY, OMAR’S PRO BONO LAYWER FOR 10 YEARS, TO FREE OMAR.

To make a donation you have the following options:

  • 2) By Cheque, you can send to: Free Omar Khadr Now Committee P.O. Box 57112 RPO East Hastings Street Vancouver, V5K 1Z0 B.C. Canada (Please enclose your email address)
  • 3) By Bank Deposit/Interac e-transfer: Free Omar Khadr Now Committee VanCity Credit Union, Branch 13 Account number: 531590 freeomarkhadrnow@gmail.com

 

“I went into Guantanamo Bay as a lawyer and I came out as a broken father.” – Dennis Edney


To hear Dennis Edney speak about Omar, you can watch: