By James Travers
OTTAWA—Omar Khadr is scaring us silly. Fear and loathing of the man and the extremism he was recruited to serve is more destructive than bombs to the freedoms open societies claim to hold dear.
By trampling defining legal and human rights, the U.S. and Canada are handing terrorists a victory they could never have won alone. Sooner rather than later Khadr will return home having exposed our rubbery confidence in values that have guided enlightened democracies through crises for nearly 800 years.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a teenager misled into combat by a lunatic father. It couldn’t have been achieved without our help.
If we are fighting a war on terror then we have just shot ourselves in the foot. Failures by the U.S. to uphold judicial principles and by Canada to safeguard a citizen’s fundamental rights only reinforce the energizing jihadist notion that western democracies are fatally weak and hopelessly corrupt.
Lost in the test of wills playing out at Guantanamo Bay is that Khadr is not the issue. At stake are the strength of our beliefs and the firmness of our resolve.
There is no doubt that what Khadr was drawn into was quintessentially evil: It’s been that way since terrorism first surfaced as a tactic countless wars ago. What is in question is whether or not we have the collective poise to shrug off a far from existential threat.
Much of what was done after Khadr’s capture in a 2002 Afghanistan firefight suggests that calming self-assurance is now missing in action. His eight-year detention — and the show trial made possible by evidence tainted by the method of its collection — offer ample proof that something more free or fair couldn’t be trusted to produce as satisfying a result
Much of what’s being said in the aftermath of Khadr’s “confession” suggests a weak-kneed willingness to sacrifice universal rights to punish a criminal convicted by rough consensus. Shrill encouragement to strip Khadr of Canadian citizenship — a mistake that would compound the error of denying his rights — misses the practical point while speaking to a lynch-mob mentality that should now be as alien to mature countries as it was to Hollywood sheriffs.
Contrary to that roiling sentiment, there’s no better place for Khadr than back in Canada. If he’s the victim of a kangaroo court, then this country’s reasoned jurists will do whatever is possible to correct the injustice perpetrated by others. If he’s the danger U.S. military prosecutors insist, then the international community will be safer with him in a place where he will be prudently watched, not in some third world sink hole where he will vanish through the cracks.
Coursing through the whole sorry Khadr affair is an embarrassing lack of faith that institutions which have grown in strength and stature since the 1215 signing of the Magna Carta are robust enough to counter the rancid malevolence of a single dysfunctional 21st century family. First Washington couldn’t bring itself to trust a credible tribunal to decide Khadr’s guilt or innocence. Then Ottawa failed to protect fundamental rights and freedoms written into laws, guaranteed by the Charter and guarded by the Supreme Court.
Demanding justice and defending rights are not outpourings of bleeding-heart sympathy for Khadr or an implied endorsement of anything he may have done, or now says he did, in Afghanistan. They are instead an urgent reminder that nothing is more corrosive to freedom than fear.