home

Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligerant'

Meet Omar Khadr. He's a Canadian teenager who has been held at Guantanamo for 39 months, since he was 15 and captured in Afghanistan. You can read his story at our earlier posts here and here.

He is one of the 9 detainees at Guantanamo who has been charged with a crime -- murder of an American medic. His military tribunal proceeding began last week. The first issue taken up was the improper comments of the military prosecutor to the press.

The second issue was Omar's request, made through his American lawyer, Muneer Ahmad,for a new military lawyer.

Khadr will be formally represented by Capt. John Merriam, a U.S. army judge advocate with no trial experience, "even on charges of jaywalking," said Ahmad, who is asking that he be replaced by someone with more experience.

"It would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high," he said.

As to the prosecutor's improper comments which violated his ethical obligations under military law and state bar ethics rules, the tribunal judge seemed concerned, but not overly so, and has taken the matter under advisement.

Ahmad also reports that Omar has been tortured while at Guantanamo:

Ahmad, who saw Khadr on Monday, said he suffers from chronic health problems and has participated in hunger strikes but is in "reasonably good spirits given what he's been subjected to." Khadr's lawyers and human rights groups closing monitoring the case say he's been constantly interrogated, shackled in painful stress positions for many hours until he's soiled himself and subjected to extreme temperatures.

Even worse, the Tortonto Star reported in 2005,

In February, his U.S. lawyer told reporters the teenager had been used as a human mop to clean urine on the floor and had been beaten, threatened with rape and tied up for hours in painful positions at Guantanamo Bay.

As to the charges,

U.S. authorities say Khadr threw a grenade that killed Speer in an alleged al-Qaida compound. The teen was shot three times by American soldiers.

Omar was blinded in one eye by one of the shots. He was the only survivor of the 2002 strike on a suspected al-Qaeda compound.

One of his American lawyers, Muneer Ahmad, called it "astounding, shameful and appalling" that the U.S. military is prosecuting the first-ever war crimes case of a juvenile, saying he has "reliable evidence" that Khadr has been tortured.

And he called on Canada to denounce the tribunal system set up by President George W. Bush, saying it allows confessions extracted by torture and doesn't afford anywhere near the kind of due process of criminal or civil trials.

"Canada has a decision to make," said Ahmad, "either to publicly condemn the military commissions as fundamentally unfair . . . or to remain silent on the matter and complicit in the sham trial."

The U.S. no longer designates Omar an "enemy combatant." They use a new phrase. He's now an "unprivileged belligerent" who didn't have the right to wage war.

Omar's family, if you read the earlier posts, is tied to al-Qaeda. The men were fighters. [Pictures and a who's who are here.] That's how Omar and his brother Abdurahman were raised. In an interview, Omar's mother expressed her expectation and approval of her sons joining the call to fight.

Omar's Egyptian-born father Ahmed Said Khadr was an Osama bin Laden confidante and suspected financier who shuffled his family around Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A self-described "Al Qaeda family," they nursed hatred for Americans, cheered 9/11, trained their sons in Al Qaeda camps, and urged them to become martyrs.

In 2003, Omar's father was killed in a shoot-out at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Another of Omar's brothers was with him and remains paralyzed from the waist down by bullets. He's back in Canada with his mother.

As Jeanne D'arc of Body and Soul wrote in 2005:

The problem is, Omar Khadr is as much a victim of these people as a member of the family. He's eighteen years old. When he was captured in Afghanistan, he was fifteen -- a child turned into a soldier by parents from hell. And our government's response to this victim of child abuse was to abuse him further.

The Toronto Star in 2005 opined:

Canadian troops fought alongside Americans in Afghanistan, to defeat Al Qaeda and to defend our way of life. That way does not include jailing 15-year-olds forever, under abusive conditions, for crimes committed under fire, which have not been weighed publicly in a credible court. [Prime Minister] Martin must press for Khadr to be tried, or released.

Avi Cover, a Senior Associate at Human Rights First, was at Guantanamo for Omar's military tribunal last week and reports on the proceedings at the ACS blog.

What should have happened to Omar after his capture? Human Rights Watch has the right answer:

The United States is bound by law to provide rehabilitation for any former child soldiers within its jurisdiction," said [Advocacy Director for the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Jo] Becker. "Rehabilitation does not happen in a cell in Guantanamo."

In December 2002, the United States ratified a treaty that establishes 18 as the minimum age for any compulsory recruitment or participation in armed conflict. This treaty "the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Children" obliges governments to assist in the demobilization and rehabilitation of former child soldiers, with a particular responsibility to rehabilitate child soldiers within its jurisdiction.

International standards recognize that children under the age of 18 are a particularly vulnerable group, and are entitled to special care and protection because they are still developing physically, mentally and emotionally. These standards include certain key principles, including the use of detention only as a measure of last resort, the separation of children from adults, the right of children to maintain contact with their families, and the right to a prompt determination of their case. In addition, treaties binding on the United States recognize the special situation of children who have been recruited or used in armed conflict, and their rights to prompt demobilization, and rehabilitation and reintegration assistance.

In cases where children are believed to have committed war crimes, they can be formally charged and should be provided with counsel and tried in accordance with international standards of juvenile justice.

I guess that doesn't apply to those the U.S. believes are "unprivileged belligerants."

< Ralph Reed Feels the Heat | Will IRS Investigate Churches that Support Republican Candidates? >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#1)
    by joejoejoe on Sun Jan 15, 2006 at 11:46:25 PM EST
    Out with 2005. In with 2006! Out - Enemy Combatant In - Unprivileged Belligerent Out - J. Michael Luttig In - Samuel Alito Out - Justice In - Truthiness Out - Article III In - Article II And so it goes...

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:14:46 AM EST
    this may be a stupid question, and i ask many of them, but, where is it written in stone who is allowed to wage war against the united states? i've never heard of this concept before, can you provide links to research material on it?

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#3)
    by scarshapedstar on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:48:05 AM EST
    Unprivileged... now which member of the Bush family does that remind me of...
    And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.


    Ok, I don't quite get this.... Our country was attacked, we're fighting a "War on Terror", the President claims all sorts of "war powers", claims that he can disregard ordinary laws due to the fact that he is "Commander-In-Chief", claims that the legislative act allowing him to go to "war" also allows him to do anything necessary to prosecute that war including wiretapping Americans etc., encourages torture of prisoners to glean information to enable us to fight this "war", BUT the prisoners are NOT "prisoners of war", we do not have to follow any conventions of war or dealing with the treatment of prisoners etc., and the combatants on the other side are being prosecuted as "war criminals??" Don't you have to have a war to have a war crime?? So are we in a war or not? Are they prisoners of war, or not? How can the ordinary (in wartime) act of throwing a grenade at an enemy soldier be a war crime?

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#5)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 06:16:32 AM EST
    rebmarks - Ok, let's get started. Google up the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War and read it carefully, You will discover that there are very clear definufitions for who is a POW. Among them are being a member of an actual army, fighting under a flag, in uniform, etc. Omar does not meet these qualifications. He does meet the definition of a guerrilla:
    a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage
    The historical puishment for guerrillas has been hanging. He should receive a fair and rapid tribubal and if convicted, hanged by the neck until dead. Hard times, and too bad he has ruined his life. But that isn't our fault. The medic he is charged with killing deserved better. As for the war being legal, you will find that the Congress passed a rather lengthy law in that regards, there were UN resolutions, etc. Try putting on your memory cap and remembering the Taliban, 9/11, etc.

    "How can the ordinary (in wartime) act of throwing a grenade at an enemy soldier be a war crime?" Because The Coward who would be king and his Band of Bunglers say it is. God help our GIs if they are ever captured in battle.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#7)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 06:41:25 AM EST
    Bob S - Your problems with Bush aside, I also invite you to read the Geneva Convention.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#8)
    by nolo on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 09:29:04 AM EST
    So, PPJ, by your definition a U.S. Army groundpounder in a conventional military formation's a soldier entitled to Geneva Convention protections, but a U.S. Navy SEAL who engages in guerilla-style operations isn't?

    JimakaPPJ says: Google up the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War and read it carefully Yes, indeed, Jim: do read it carefully. You will discover that everyone taken in combat has a right to be treated as a prisoner of war, until a competent tribunal finds otherwise. Omar was taken in combat, and has not yet come before a competent tribunal. The US broke the Geneva Convention with regard to him and to every other prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay. Even if a competent tribunal were to find Omar to be a civilian criminal rather than a military PoW, he would still be entitled to basic human rights, guaranteed by the Geneva Convention on treatment of civilians in time of war - which you can also find, and read, if you google for it. And you know all this, Jim, because I've lost count of the number of times I've had to remind you of the facts. Why do you keep telling people to "read the Geneva Conventions" when you know that they don't say what you claim they do?

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sailor on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 10:46:25 AM EST
    We invaded a soverign country whose gov't we put in power. If the gov't is to be believed, a 15 year old took up arms against the invaders. Then we imprisoned him for 3+ years w/o charges, even tho afghanistan was defeated and elections have been held. (IOW, the war is over.) I'm really disgusted with people who endorse kidnapping and torture of kids.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#11)
    by Dadler on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:19:56 AM EST
    Just sickening. We had a chance to offer this kid a life, and we gave him a cage. Nice example.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:21:05 AM EST
    nolo - What I said was that the guerrilla in question, Omar Khadr, was not a soldier and was not covered under the GOC. Given the actions of the terrorists I do not expect them - see the beheadings, car bombings, etc. - to treat our soldiers in a humane manner, irrespective of how we treat them as prisoners. I especially do not expect to see them nurse a prisoner who has been shot three times back to health, treat him so nice that he can complain about his lawyers, feed him so well that he can stage a hunger strike and provide him a Bible to bolster his faith. Now. Your question was? And why do you ask it? BTW - Your derogatory description:
    U.S. Army groundpounder
    defines your attitude towards our military quite well. Please, do not tell us how you support the troops. Jesurgislac - You wrote:
    You will discover that everyone taken in combat has a right to be treated as a prisoner of war, until a competent tribunal finds otherwise.
    First, you have no proof that he hasn't been treated as well as a POW, and a tribunal is in the offing. Secondly, as you well know, the GOC does not say that. From the GOC:
    Art 5. The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation. Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.
    Since there is no doubt, the tribunal requirement does not apply.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#13)
    by cpinva on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:36:22 AM EST
    jim, you never actually responded to the question raised. of course, you rarely do, because that would expose the fallacy that is you. what tribunal determined this kid was a "guerilla"? cite links please. "groundpounder" is, and has been, for a long time, a self-imposed term of endearment for american foot soldiers, just as the term "grunt" is. surely, you of the deep well of knowledge, would know this. please desist with the "why do you hate america so?" rubbish. the geneva conventions have, as you say, very specific requirements, with regard to both who is considered a "soldier", and the care and treatment of all captured parties. there is no requirement that you be in uniform, to be entitled to treatment as a soldier, it's merely the easiest method of making that determination. but then, you already knew this, didn't you.

    Since there is no doubt, the tribunal requirement does not apply. As you know, because you've been told many, many times (so many times that you can now actually quote the relevant part of the Convention) the "doubt" applies to finding Omar not a PoW. No tribunal is required if there is no doubt that Omar is a PoW. If any doubt arises that he is not, a tribunal is required to prove that point. It's the old "innocent till proven guilty" truism: until his captors prove him not a PoW before a competent tribunal, they have to treat him as if he were. First, you have no proof that he hasn't been treated as well as a POW First, none of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been given their rights as PoWs. Second, there is credible evidence that this kid has been tortured and denied medical care. and a tribunal is in the offing. "In the offing" - after 39 months of illegal imprisonment? You're reaching, Jim. The tribunal was supposed to happen before they took his legal rights as a PoW away, not over three years afterwards.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#16)
    by Sailor on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:14:31 PM EST
    As far as I can find, the term 'Unprivileged Belligerant' exists nowhere in law, treaties, the GenCon or even the english language. (BTW, it is spelled belligerent.) We shot the kid 3 times, kidnapped him from the field of battle, blinded him, tortured him and now we claim we can do anything we want to him. But caesar is an honorable man.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#17)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:43:14 PM EST
    Dadler writes: Just sickening. We had a chance to offer this kid a life, and we gave him a cage. Nice example. Can you tell me why we should be offering this kid anything? He attacked us and killed a US medic. What would you do to someone who killed a neighborhood doctor? Send him to Disneyland? Gesh. cpinva - Are you are being obtuse?
    Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4 such persons shall enjoy....
    Now. There is no doubt that he is not covered under article Four. So, since there is none.. he is not qualified to "enjoy..." So if he is not a POW, what is he? A guerrilla, or if you prefer, an unlawful combatant. The tribunal is determining his guilt in the matter of his killing a US medic with a hand grenade. Other tribunals are being provided, over 500 as shown here to insure that they are unlawful combatants. And some are releasd and some of those return to fight again. Jesurgislac - You are being obtuse. Article 4 has the qualifying points.
    belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4,
    If he doesn't qualify as a member identified in Article 4, he doesn't. End of report. Simple fact. Read the simple statement. "SHOULD ANY DOUBT ARISE." THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT HE DOESN'T QUALIFY FOR THE REQUIREMENTS FOR POW STATUS. HE ISN'T A POW. HE NEVER WAS A POW. A TRIBUNAL ISN'T REQUIRED. Conversely, if there was any doubt, he would require a tribunal to determine his status. So the imprsonment was legal. And 39 months? I would have tried and hung him within 3 months. But that's just me.

    JimakaPPJ: Can you tell me why we should be offering this kid anything? Because not doing so is illegal. There is no doubt that he is not covered under article Four. Heh. Misreading it again, Jim, as you've done so many times before. The Geneva Convention says that if any doubt arises, the prisoner shall be treated as a PoW until brought before a competent tribunal. Omar has neither been given the rights of a PoW nor brought before a competent tribunal: his detention is illegal. Article 4 has the qualifying points. I would say you are being obtuse, Jim, but since this point has been explained to you on numerous occasions, I think your failure to comprehend it goes well beyond obtuse. The Geneva Convention says all prisoners are entitled to be treated as PoWs until brought before a competent tribunal. The "doubt" applies to removing a prisoner from the category PoW: Article 5 gives permission to bring the prisoner before a competent tribunal in order to prove to the tribunal's satisfaction that the prisoner does not fit into any category in Article 4. Without a competent tribunal, the detaining power has no authority to decide that a prisoner is not a PoW. Read the simple statement. "SHOULD ANY DOUBT ARISE." THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT HE DOESN'T QUALIFY FOR THE REQUIREMENTS FOR POW STATUS. HE ISN'T A POW. HE NEVER WAS A POW. A TRIBUNAL ISN'T REQUIRED. Just because your caps lock key stuck does not remove the legal requirement, clearly specified in the Geneva Convention, for a competent tribunal to determine if Omar is not a PoW. Conversely, if there was any doubt, he would require a tribunal to determine his status. You have "doubt" exactly the wrong way round, Jim, and you know it, because it's been explained to you, over, and over, and over again. So the imprisonment was illegal. And 39 months? I would have tried and hung him within 3 months. But that's just me. I wish it was just you. Unfortunately, the Bush administration appears to have the same unAmerican standards of justice as your "first try, then execute". I think someone should have explained to you sooner that the justice system in the US, and the Geneva Conventions, assumes innocence until a court can prove guilt. A tribunal was legally required: by the Geneva Convention, Omar must be treated as a PoW until a tribunal can show otherwise. As a PoW, he can't be tried for murder for killing in combat. As a civilian criminal, he could, but only a competent tribunal could give him that status - and after 39 months of illegal detention, the US justice system have put themselves in a very bad position to demand one. You know all this, Jim: you're literate enough to read the Geneva Convention, and presumably are aware that the legal system defaults to "innocent", not "guilty". So why do you keep pretending, all this time, that you can't read and don't understand?

    Sailor... kidnapped him from the field of battle, Gotta love your line of reasoning... LOL. How dare we "kidnap" (AKA - take prisoners of) people on the battlefeild shooting at us! Where do we get off???? Jersurgislac... Omar has neither been given the rights of a PoW nor brought before a competent tribunal: his detention is illegal. And you "know" this because? What exactly are the "rights' of a POW? We should provide him a laywer? WRONG! but only a competent tribunal could give him that status - and after 39 months of illegal detention, So...we should let him out (on bail) until we can get him through the system? Hoping he'll show up for his "court" date? jo fish.. just tossed him into GITMO, and denied him basic human rights, and he was IIRC 13 years old So he's 13? Are you saying that 13 year olds can't be guilty? Evil? Murderers? And "basic' human rights are what? How about Food? Clothing? Shelter? Are you saying he's being denied these things?

    BB: And you "know" this because? Know what? That he was entitled to be treated as a PoW? That's what the Geneva Convention says. That he didn't get a competent tribunal to determine that he isn't a PoW? That's what the US government says. That his detention is therefore illegal? That's what the Geneva Convention says. What exactly are the "rights' of a POW? Suggest you read the Geneva Convention. We should provide him a laywer? WRONG! No, no, not WRONG! Only a small typo. The US doesn't have provide him with a laywer, or even a lawyer, until they determine by means of a competent tribunal that he's not a PoW, but a civilian criminal. At that point, both the Geneva Convention on treatment of civilians in time of war, and the US justice system, requires that he is provided with a lawyer, yes.

    Re: Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligeran (none / 0) (#23)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Jan 17, 2006 at 11:22:21 AM EST
    Jo Fish – Glad to know you served and was lucky enough not to call a Marine a jarhead. The rule on derogatory words is simple. Friends can do it. Peers can do it. Others can not do it. This has been explained time and again by blacks when the subject of use of the N word comes up. Makes perfect sense when you think about it. Glad to know you served. I never mention specifics of my service beyond the 10 years. Your belief as to my default position is just that. Your belief. If you have specifics, I am all eyes. You wrote:
    Someone said upthread, in the next (Hairy Thunderer forbid) real war where there are POW's who meet the demanding specifications you seem to want to hold out for those captured in Afgahnistan, we have now given our adversary the perfect alibi to treat our prisoners as they wish. They merely need to claim the Geneva Convention invalid, and let the torture/mistreatment begin.
    If you read that then you read my reply which can be summarized as: Doesn’t make any difference to the radical Moslem terrorists that we are dealing with. See beheadings. See car bombs. See suicide bombers and wedding parties. See 13 year olds throwing hand grenades. And my specifications are just those contained in Article 4 of the convention. By your comment you are admitting that you want to lower the requirements. Of course once you change them, don’t be surprised when some other group tightens them. Law of unintended consequences, etc. And right side of what? Different cultures have different viewpoints on maturity. If a 13 year throws a hand grenade, he is old enough to be punished. Jo, all in all your position matches up with the standard anti-war, anti-Bush rhetoric. Your wording and phrasing is surprisingly young for someone who spent 10 years on active duty, plus “years” in the reserve. That last comment puzzled me. Was it active or inactive, and why not be specific. And no, I did no reserve time. We too had our expressions. The favorite being, “One aw sh*t wipes out a hundred atta boys.” I guess we can blame inflation on the quantity difference. My personal favorite was, “The wind blew and the shi*t flew and up jumped our crew.” As you might guess, it was associated with a mission that no one had any real desire to go on. And we always knew there were only two good duty stations. The one you had come from and the one you were going to. Hope yours exceeds your desires.

    Doesn’t make any difference to the radical Moslem terrorists that we are dealing with. The problem is, Jim, that the US is not dealing with radical Moslem terrorists. The US is imprisoning, indefinitely, in terrible conditions, people whom the US knows to be innocent, people whom the US has no evidence against one way or the other, people who may be guilty of crimes, but who have not been charged or sentenced... and this ugly, criminal behavior is only going to create more radical Muslim terrorists, as well as a general groundswell of support in the Muslim world, that if the US thinks it's okay to murder and imprison the innocent because they're Muslims, how can it be wrong for terrorists to strike at the innocent because they're Americans? So long as you argue, as you have been doing consistently for as long as I've known you, that the US doesn't have to prove anyone's guilt before they lock them up and torture them, you are proving the point to any Muslim who reads this blog that there are some Americans who are exactly like radical Muslim terrorists say they are: evil people who want only death and destruction for Muslims.

    Doesn’t make any difference to the radical Moslem terrorists that we are dealing with. The problem is, Jim, that the US is not dealing with radical Moslem terrorists. The US is imprisoning, indefinitely, in terrible conditions, people whom the US knows to be innocent, people whom the US has no evidence against one way or the other, people who may be guilty of crimes, but who have not been charged or sentenced... and this ugly, criminal behavior is only going to create more radical Muslim terrorists, as well as a general groundswell of support in the Muslim world, that if the US thinks it's okay to murder and imprison the innocent because they're Muslims, how can it be wrong for terrorists to strike at the innocent because they're Americans? So long as you argue, as you have been doing consistently for as long as I've known you, that the US doesn't have to prove anyone's guilt before they lock them up and torture them, you are proving the point to any Muslim who reads this blog that there are some Americans who are exactly like radical Muslim terrorists say they are: evil people who want only death and destruction for Muslims.