April 29, 2008

Khadr lawyer urges Canada to repatriate 'child soldier'

Juliet O'Neill , Canwest News Service

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2008

OTTAWA - With opposition parties united in a call for the government to bring Omar Khadr home from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the young man's Pentagon-appointed lawyer championed the unusual case of the "child soldier" at a Commons committee hearing Tuesday.

U.S. navy Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler's appeal for Canada to save Khadr from a potential life sentence from a U.S. military commission appeared to leave the Conservative government unmoved. Secretary of State Jason Kenney defended the government's "consistent" position of not interfering in the U.S. process governing terrorist suspects.

Kuebler emphasized that every other western country has repatriated their nationals from the prison built for "enemy combatants" in the war on terror; that all youth except Khadr were segregated in a children's wing called Camp Iguana; and that evidence he killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan was recently undermined by a contradictory account of what took place.

Wayne Marston, the New Democratic Party MP who proposed the motion for hearings into Khadr's case, reacted to Kuebler's testimony by accusing the government of abandoning a boy caught in "absolutely horrendous" circumstances. Khadr has been detained without trial for six years, since age 15, when he was captured by U.S. special forces.

Marston insisted Khadr be treated as a child soldier under a United Nations protocol - signed by Canada and the United States - that regards children recruited for war as victims and calls for their rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Kuebler portrayed Khadr as a young man who is daring to dream of a life in Canada, his country of birth, where he can watch movies such as Lord of the Rings and visit the Rockies, get an education and a job and embark on an ordinary life. He speculated the government won't champion his cause because the public doesn't approve of the association between al-Qaida and some of the Khadr family members, including Omar's parents and sister. He should not be punished for the views and deeds of others, he asserted.

Marston questioned why the government is not prepared to secure Khadr's release when it is working on Brenda Martin's release from a prison in Mexico. Kenney said the cases are "not analogous."

When a reporter asked if Khadr is a child soldier, Kenney added that he now is 21 years old and that an optional protocol of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children does not bar prosecution of persons age 15-18 in any case.

"We've pressed the American authorities to ensure he received proper care and we've asked that they take into account his age," Kenney said.

If he is tried by a U.S. military commission, Kuebler predicted Khadr will be found guilty and sentenced to life in prison "for little more than having survived a fire fight."

Kuebler's testimony came after former Liberal foreign affairs minister Bill Graham publicly expressed regret that the previous government did not press harder to repatriate him.

Ottawa Citizen

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