Canadian-born child soldier and torture victim Omar Khadr, the only citizen of a western democracy still held in the US Government detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, went on trial this week in the first war crimes prosecution of a child soldier in US history.
Under Stephen Harper, Canada is the only western country not to ask for the release of its nationals from the illegal prison camp. The Harper government has flouted court orders requiring it to take action in support of Khadr’s civil rights.
The U.N. Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict warned Monday that the legality of Khadr’s trial is doubtful, and his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that endangers child soldiers worldwide. Radhika Coomaraswamy asked the United States to halt the trial.
Jennifer Turner, Human Rights Researcher in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, sums up the background to Khadr’s prosecution:
Khadr, then 15 years old, was taken to Bagram near death, after being shot twice in the back, blinded by shrapnel, and buried in rubble from a bomb blast. He was interrogated within hours, while sedated and handcuffed to a stretcher. He was threatened with gang rape and death if he didn’t cooperate with interrogators. He was hooded and chained with his arms suspended in a cage-like cell, and his primary interrogator was later court-martialed for detainee abuse leading to the death of a detainee. During his subsequent eight-year (so far) detention at Guantánamo, Khadr was subjected to the “frequent flyer” sleep deprivation program and he says he was used as a human mop after he was forced to urinate on himself.
In closing arguments before the judge’s ruling, Khadr’s sole defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, told the judge, “Sir, be a voice today. Tell the world that we actually stand for what we say we stand for.”
The military judge trying Khadr, Col. Patrick Parrish, dismissed the motion without explanation.