Guantanamo's Child: The Story of Omar Khadr

I've been writing about Canadian Omar Khadr, the 15 year old seized on the battlefield in Afghanistan (gruesome picture here) and held at Bagram and Guantanamo ever since. He's now 21 and facing trial by a Pentagon military tribunal. Another hearing in his case is set for next week. He's the only Westerner still at Guantanamo.

The U.S. charges he threw a grenade at an American medic in an alleged al-Qaida compound, killing him. Omar was shot three times by U.S. soldiers and blinded in one eye.

The Toronto Star today has a long excerpt from a new book about him by Toronto Star journalist Michelle Shephard, Guantanamo's Child. It chronicles his first days in U.S. custody. Part 2, detailing how he was used as a human mop, is here.


One evening in March 2003, Omar was taken from his cell and in no mood to co-operate. The guards left him in the interrogation booth for hours, short-shackled with his ankles and wrists bound together and secured to a bolt on the floor. Unable to move, he eventually urinated and was left in a pool of urine on the floor.

When the MPs returned and found the soiled teenager, Omar's lawyers later said, the guards poured pine oil cleaner on his chest and the floor. Keeping him short-shackled, the guards used Omar as a human mop to clean up the mess. Omar was returned to his cell and for two days the guards refused to give him fresh clothes.

He was threatened with rape and extradition to Egypt, which allows torture. (Rolling Stone published this long feature article with more details on his torture.) Omar turned 16 a month before arriving at Gitmo. Under Pentagon policy, he was treated as an adult from his first day there.

The United Nations has warned the U.S. that it has a duty to protect Khadr as a "child soldier," and work to rehabilitate rather than prosecute him.

Omar's family is al-Qaeda. His father forced him to fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. See my earlier post, Child of Jihad and An Unprivileged Belligerant. The CBC has a family album here.

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.

As Jeanne D'Arc of the (unfortunately now defunct) blog Body and Soul wrote back in 2002:

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.

What should the U.S. have done? Human Rights Watch provides the answer.

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    I am just sickened (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Anne on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:33:48 PM EST
    when I read stories like this, and feel sicker still when I realize that this kind of thing has been green-lighted from the very highest levels of the administration, even while we have been lied to about it over and over again.  "We do not torture" - they can parse it all they want, but yes, they do.  And I have no doubt it is ongoing.

    I am just heartsick over what we have become.

    Jeralyn... Spitzer in trouble (none / 0) (#1)
    by diplomatic on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:16:58 PM EST
    Spitzer involved in a prostitution ring.

    Yes, I said PROSTITUTION RING! Haha, yikes.

    This is a breaking story...

    LOL, what a bad headline for him.

    (you can delete this OT post, but just wanted to give you the heads up.)

    please do delete it. (none / 0) (#3)
    by scribe on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:23:14 PM EST
    WE need no hooker discussions on this, troll.

    Um yea I'm not a troll (none / 0) (#5)
    by diplomatic on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:24:49 PM EST
    A disgusting story. (none / 0) (#2)
    by scribe on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:22:27 PM EST
    I hope everyone goes and looks at the photo TL linked in.  Then the reader should remember that shortly after that photo was taken, while he was still recovering from those injuries, the torture of this teenager began.

    And also read the article and remember that all the while, and during his torture, pieces of shrapnel in his body were slowly "working their way to the surface".  That means, in reality, that those sharp shards of metal were slowly cutting their way through his flesh to reach the surface.  

    If there was nothing else, the fact of his torture alone should be sufficient indictment of the criminal conspiracy passing as a government we are saddled with, and whose continuation McBush threatens us with.

    And, frankly, just from the grayish color of his face, I'm surprised he survived those injuries.

    Yes, apparently it took some pretty herioc (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:30:24 PM EST
    efforts on the part of the US soldiers (who had just watched Omar kill one of their own with a grenade) to save his life.

    Nobody saw where the grenade came from (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 02:29:32 PM EST
    Good point, there has been some new (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 02:50:19 PM EST
    info since I last looked into this.

    I have to cut the kid some slack (none / 0) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 03:03:18 PM EST
    teenagers don't get their frontal lobes in until their early twenties.  In the mean time most of them tend to be prone to following their parents with an unquestioned loyalty because since their infanthood their survival depended on their parents providing for them.  Blood is much thicker than water when you have no frontal lobes yet and you don't feel like death is possible.  I miss living forever.

    Nothing he did excuses being abused, (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 04:23:52 PM EST
    for me, the issue is whether he did or did not take up arms against US soldiers. It doesn't look like anyone will be able to conclusively prove anything either way, at this point anyway.

    When are (none / 0) (#22)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 06:38:57 AM EST
     the frontal lobes delivered?  At night?

    Sometimes Wile ECoyote (none / 0) (#25)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 07:01:23 AM EST
    some people never get theirs.

    Bush Legacy (none / 0) (#4)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:24:08 PM EST
    Omar Khadr has become a symbol of what America has turned into under BushCo rule.

    These kinds of abuses should be wrapped around the neck of McCain and all Republicans running for Congressional seats.


    i don't understand his "crime" (none / 0) (#6)
    by eric on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:30:14 PM EST
    I usually get repudiated on this point, but all say it again.  Leaving aside his age, he was just fighting an invading force.  I would do the same.  What, exactly did he do that every soldier in every war has done without being prosecuted?  Sure, he was associated with an organization that was very bad, but so was every German who fought in WWII.

    I think he was a mercenary. (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:34:10 PM EST
    Not at all like a German soldier in WWII.

    So it would be Ok to do it to a (none / 0) (#18)
    by Florida Resident on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 06:36:52 PM EST
    Private Security Contractor in Iraq?

    Sigh. Is that really what I said? (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 07:05:58 PM EST
    Omar is a Canadian citizen, born and bred, to naturalized Canadian citizens.

    From Canada he went to Pakistan and Afghanistan and was a part of AQ there. His dad was a major AQ fundraiser and armed combatant.

    AQ and its ally, the Taliban, were/are in Afghanistan fighting against the gvt of Afghanistan and its allies there, the UN and the US.

    No, he is not like the Germans in WWII.


    So I ask do you approve this or should he (none / 0) (#20)
    by Florida Resident on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 09:52:16 PM EST
    treated as a prisoner of war.

    As I said in post #17: (none / 0) (#21)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 10:22:58 PM EST
    Nothing he did excuses [his] being abused.

    as long as we agree on that ok (none / 0) (#24)
    by Florida Resident on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 06:51:02 AM EST
    What was his (none / 0) (#23)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Mar 11, 2008 at 06:39:53 AM EST
    rank, and was he wearing his uniform at the time of capture?

    Disgusting (none / 0) (#10)
    by mexboy on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:45:02 PM EST
    I wish I hadn't clicked on the graphic picture of him shot. It just upset the h**l out of me.

    I don't know how to feel here. Torture is absolutely wrong! Our government should not engage in it under any circumstances.

     I'm also torn because the hatred he must feel for America is probably a thousand times more than it was before, and his resolve to harm us is probably stronger. I also don't have all the facts on this case.

     So what to do now?

    Hatred? (none / 0) (#12)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 02:11:29 PM EST
    I doubt it. I think that he is a broken man at this point, never to recover.

    So sad (none / 0) (#11)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 01:51:40 PM EST
    I think the teenager of this family could attest to what it is like being sucked up the swirling torrent and spit out whenever the powers that be decide to do that or not, but at least she hasn't ever been imprisoned or tortured or raped for being our child.

    Clean up thread? (none / 0) (#16)
    by FoxholeAtheist on Mon Mar 10, 2008 at 03:06:17 PM EST
    Jeralyn, some of the flippant ("sarcastic") comments on this thread are very off-putting and don't serve to advance the discussion.

    Thanks for bringing this matter back to the front burner. And thanks for the links to the graphic photos and descriptions. The suppression of information such as this enables we, the people, to go about our business while torture is committed in our name. Bush & Co have been very effective in ensuring that Iraq doesn't become a living room war - a la Vietnam. Your post helps bring it home, where it belongs.