May 23, 2008

Daillaire's comments on Omar Khadr ..

Dallaire: Who are the real criminals in Omar Khadr's case?

Romeo A. Dallaire, National Post Published: Friday, May 23, 2008

Canadians must realize by now that our government's cynicism toward Omar Khadr's tragic predicament reflects an unacceptable moral position. We are permitting the United States to try a Canadian child soldier using a military tribunal whose procedures violate basic principles of justice.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives slough off this reality using clever words and pat responses.

Speaking recently about his government's inaction on the Khadr file, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier glibly told the House that "the current policy of the government is one that has been in place since 2002," and that the government "is making sure that justice takes its course."

The policy toward Mr. Khadr formulated by the Canadian government in 2002, during the panicky aftermath of 9/11, was unquestionably wrong. Sticking stubbornly to this six-year-old approach illustrates an inflexible policy mechanism, and perhaps even a compulsion to bow and scrape to the Bush administration

In recent years, we have heard troubling facts about Guantanamo Bay and incontrovertible evidence of U. S. malfeasance.

In July, 2006, the United Nations called for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, terming the indefinite detention of individuals without a charge "a violation of the convention against torture." Two months later, more than 600 U. S. legal scholars and jurists called on Congress not to enact the Military Commissions Act of 2006, as it would rob detainees of fundamental protections provided by domestic and international law.

This act allows prosecutors to use evidence gleaned from abusive interrogations, including coercion and torture. The commissions also sabotage individuals' ability to defend themselves by barring access to exculpatory evidence known to the U. S. government. In Mr. Khadr's case, documents to be used as evidence for war-crimes charges, laid in February, 2007, have been altered.

In December, 2007, Colonel Morris Davis, then chief military prosecutor of the military tribunals, resigned in protest over such political interference. "It's a disgrace to call it a military commission," he said. "It is a political commission."

Omar Khadr's ordeal began in 2002, when the 15-year-old was present during a firefight with U. S. troops in Afghanistan. Despite his age and the two serious gunshot wounds Khadr suffered during the incident, he was taken prisoner as an adult combatant for allegedly killing a U. S. serviceman. Even while he lay healing from his wounds, he was ill-treated, possibly tortured and certainly threatened with rendition, rape and death. We now know that even Canadian officials capitalized on Khadr's incarceration at Guantanamo Bay to question him.

Despite all this, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister sticks to his line that the government "is making sure that justice takes its course." It's difficult to imagine how anything resembling justice can come out of Guantanamo Bay.

Within the international community, Canada is viewed as gullible for allowing one of its citizens to be processed by an illegal tribunal system at Guantanamo, and as hypocritical for quietly acceding to the first ever child-soldier war-crimes prosecution.

Canada's inaction has profound ramifications. The UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, says Khadr's prosecution sets a hazardous precedent in international law, which will endanger child soldiers in conflict zones. The impunity enjoyed by the real criminals -- those who have recruited child soldiers -- continues to the detriment of real victims: the thousands of child soldiers around the world.

This government must act now, as all of our allies have done already, to bring its citizen home. Otherwise, through our citizens, we are abetting an affront to human rights and international law that will have detrimental consequences for the thousands of child soldiers we agreed to protect around the world.

- Lieutenant-General (ret'd) Romeo A. Dallaire is a Liberal Senator.

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