The Khadr case: children go first

If you wanted to bring US justice into disrepute here’s an idea. Why not revisit the whole shabby business of “enemy combatants”? Go back to Guantánamo. Get the youngest inmate held there and put him on trial before a widely-discredited “military commission”. Ignore objections that the prisoner was originally detained as a 15-year-old child. Wave away claims that he was tortured in detention.

Bingo! All your fine talk about justice and human rights in the fight against terrorism up in smoke.

Essentially this is what we’ve got with the Omar Khadr trial at Guantánamo. Of all the 170-odd remaining detainees who might have been brought before a military commission, the US authorities have chosen the very youngest: a 23-year-old who has been held for over eight years, the vast majority of this time at GITMO.

But then again, in another sense, Khadr is a veteran of the whole “war on terror” detention system. He was interrogated over 100 times at Bagram in Afghanistan (including, reportedly, while still needing to be carried on a stretcher because of serious wounds sustained in fighting before capture). He’s been through the “frequent flyer” programme of stress and duress – no sleep; intensive, prolonged interrogations; hooding; threats that he would be raped. And he’s been at Guantánamo for almost eights years of that place’s eight-and-a-half-year existence, including the seven months past the time when President Obama said the camp would be closed.

Kahdr’s a Canadian who has had little help from his own country. In fact Canada has been complicit in human rights violations against him, sending intelligence officials to interrogate him at Guantánamo (remember the video where a distressed Khadr is seen repeatedly moaning “help me, help me”?). Alex Neve, from Amnesty Canada, is currently observing the trial and has a running blog from the camp – do check it out.

Where is all this heading? Frankly the Khadr case looks a mess. But here’s how the US authorities can – even now – redeem themselves. Instead of putting Khadr through a shoddy military commission they can try him in a civilian court or release and repatriate him to Canada (please support our call for one of these options).

More widely, what ever happened to Obama’s fine-sounding promise to close Guantánamo and sort out a travesty of justice created by the Bush administration? Well, as I noted in a post on Obama’s big speech on security  last year, the then brand-new president’s headline promise actually came (we were to discover) with a much more worrying threat to push ahead with military commissions and even imprison some untried detainees indefinitely! Outrageous. Just when we thought the GITMO story was all over … it most definitely was not.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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