Lone holdout

Growing discomfort with the military commission trial of Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr, the only western national still held in the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has apparently propelled the US government to seek a plea bargain in the case. The presiding military judge delayed the trial this week in anticipation of a possible deal.

Why now?

The Toronto Star’s Michelle Sheppard reported Thursday that Omar Khadr’s pending trial “has caused discomfort among some of Obama’s advisers, who are concerned about the fact that he was 15 at the time of the alleged offence.”

Friday’s edition of the New York Times, already posted on the paper’s website, reports that “Obama administration officials have privately expressed dismay about Mr. Khadr’s trial, which they see as undermining their efforts to redeem the reputation of the military commission system.”

Sheppard also notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the Khadr case recently when criticizing the U.S. for not applying ‘international standards of juvenile justice’ traditionally afforded child soldiers.”

Also o Thursday, the Miami Herald quoted a warning from UNICEF Chief Anthony Lake that trying Khadr would set a dangerous precedent:

Lake said in a statement issued Wednesday that recruiting and using children in hostilities is a war crime and those responsible should be prosecuted, but the children involved are “victims, acting under coercion.”

“The recruitment and use of children in hostilities is a war crime, and those who are responsible — the adult recruiters — should be prosecuted,” he said.

“As UNICEF has stated in previous statements on this issue, former child soldiers need assistance for rehabilitation and reintegration into their communities, not condemnation or prosecution.”

Aides to the President of the United States. The Secretary-General of the United States. The US head of UNICEF. This is consensus approaching unanimity. Stephen Harper appears to be the lone holdout still in support of the US plan to put a Canadian child soldier on trial before a military tribunal based on evidence acquired under threat of gang rape.

That’s our PM.

As if to underscore his administration’s support for justice in this form, Harper’s foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, deemed this point in the negotiations an opportune time to issue a statement denying Canada had agreed to let Khadr serve any of his sentence in Canada, as would be allowed under a prisoner exchange treaty between the two countries.

“There is no such agreement,” said a statement from Cannon’s office.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has a good summary.