The release of Omar Khadr, on strict conditions, has reignited the debate over his capture and imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. The Conservative Party, ever in campaign mode, is always looking for a political issue to use to charge up their base, and his release, which they opposed and continue to appeal, is their cause du jour. Judging from the posts in the right-wing blogosphere and the bloviations from that neckbeard Ezra Levant, the base is indeed well and truly charged. (Warning to the reader, clicking on that last link will in fact produce 17+ minute Ezra Levant diatribe. Click at your own risk. I watch these things so that you don’t have to.)
There is much to discuss on this topic. First, one thing that has gotten lost in the mainstream media is the fact that Omar Khadr was a child soldier at the time of his arrest and should be treated as one, not as a criminal. If he came from the Rwandan genocide in the 90’s would we treat him the same way? Say what you may about what he did, he was fifteen years old when arrested, and United Nations defines a child soldier as being under the age of 18 years.
In addition to this, it is valid to question what he was arrested for. He was arrested and charged with war crimes for killing a soldier with whom he was at war with, something that is in reality not a crime in our traditional definition of the words “crime” and “war”. This bizarre charge is a hint at the confusion surround not only his arrest, but also the arrests of many of the others who were declared “illegal combatants” and housed with or without charge at Guantanamo Bay.
The decision to charge as illegal (or “unlawful”) combatant is beyond my ability to argue, but it appears to have been made to deny those arrested the rights of due process as either a prisoner of war, which would have given them certain protections under the Geneva Convention, or as a domestic criminal, which would have given them American due process rights. It appears that Khadr and others were treated in this way specifically to deny them access to any protections and rights, in effect to make them disappear.
Omar Khadr is quite simply a victim of the Manichean reaction of the Cheney presidency to Sept. 11. He is no hero, but he deserves his freedom and he deserves it now.
Welcome home, Omar. I hope that you are treated with civility and that you feel at home.