If Gitmo prisoner Omar Khadr catches a break, it won’t be courtesy of his own government.
Nor will it be the result of lobbying by his Canadian compatriots, most of whom — according to the polls — just don’t care.
Rather, it will be because Washington desperately wants to avoid the embarrassment of having its first post- 9/11 war crimes trial focused on a man whose alleged offence — killing an enemy soldier in the heat of battle — occurred when he was 15.
Mind you, for Khadr, the term “break” is relative. In this case, according to Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard, the U.S. is tentatively offering him something less than life in jail if he agrees to plead guilty.
The Scarborough-born man, now 24, hasn’t had many breaks. As a child he was whisked away by his parents to the jihadi world of the Afghan frontier.
At the age of 15, he was sent by his father to join a faction fighting the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He was badly wounded following a lengthy firefight with U.S. Special Forces and almost died.
But Omar’s real misfortune was to be his father’s son. The Americans believed Ahmed Said Khadr, an associate of Osama bin Laden, might know where the hunted terror maestro was hiding. And they thought 15-year-old Omar might know where his father was.
So after the usual mistreatment, he was shipped off to Guantanamo Bay where he was abused under a system that the Canadian Supreme Court later ruled patently illegal.
He’s been at Gitmo for eight years and is now awaiting “trial” for war crimes and murder.
I put “trial” in quotation marks because the military commission system set up to try Gitmo prisoners, while marginally better than it had been under former U.S. president George W. Bush, remains a monstrous travesty loaded against defendants.
When Khadr was captured in 2002, Ottawa did zilch.
The Liberal government of the time did not argue against the legality of the Gitmo prison camp. Nor did it argue that, as a child soldier whose rights are protected by international treaty, Khadr should be rehabilitated rather than jailed.
Instead, agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service were sent to Guantanamo to aid the Americans in their interrogation of Khadr — an action which Canada’s Supreme Court later said violated his most fundamental rights.
Ottawa’s abject refusal to defend one of its own stemmed partly from its desire to appease the U.S. and keep Canadian borders open to truck traffic.
But the Liberals were also reluctant to defend the member of a family which — thanks in large part to a CBC documentary on the Khadrs — had become resoundingly unpopular.
After the Liberals were ousted, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government also refused to intercede on Khadr’s behalf — even when the courts ordered it to do so.
Ironically, the only government that wants to short-circuit this absurd prosecution is that of U.S. President Barack Obama. More than 1,300 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Yet Khadr — a child soldier — is the only captured fighter charged with murder.
And he’s accused of not just murder but war crimes, the same charge levelled against the Nazi leadership after World War II.
Belatedly, Washington has realized how insane this seems to the rest of the world. It just wants this case to go away.
As I write, the deal — such as it is — is still being negotiated. If it works, it may spare this particular Canadian a trial before a kangaroo court and a lifetime in prison. No thanks to us.