Omar Khadr: At 15, an 'Unprivileged Belligerant'
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."
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