Global Twitter Storm for Omar Khadr, Guantanamo Victims

By Sara Naqwi | May 20, 2013

On the weekend of May 17th-19th, a global Twitter storm took place that rocked the cyber world to attention. Due to Omar Khadr’s ongoing illegal detention, from the tender age of 15, and the 100th day of the life-threatening hunger strike by the innocent prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, urgency is required to put further pressure on the Harper and Obama governments to release the extrajudicial detained men. All three days the hashtag #Khadr gained massive attention while fueled online with #GTMO17, #GTMO18, GTMO19.

Hundreds of people joined the Twitter storm to remember, learn about, and share the story of Omar Khadr who is currently detained in Millhaven Institution, Canada, which is otherwise known notoriously as “Gitmo North”.

Journalists, lawyers, students, activists, NGOs, and people from all walks of life “tweeted” about Omar’s haunting and illegal plight, wrongful capture and detention as a mere 15 year old. Those unaware of his plight before were shocked to learn that young Omar is now 26 years old, and still in a maximum security prison, but in a country which is his home. Canadians shared a public outcry regarding their government’s role in a 15 year old’s torture, and ongoing public and private persecution. Omar is falsely accused of crimes that are not recognized by Canadian law; hence his detainment is completely senseless, and mutual consternation was loudly felt.

Tweets that gained an increasing amount of attention were about Omar’s gentle character, soft speech and positive outlook on life despite his harrowing ordeal that continues to date. Omar’s ambition to become a doctor to cure the ill, despite nursing battle and torture wounds in solitary confinement with no proper medical care for the past 11 years, affected an increasing amount of people, Canadians et al.

Moreover, as the hashtag GTMO17-19 focused on the victims’ critical state in Guantanamo Bay, Omar’s participation in a hunger strike during his detention in Guantanamo gained significant attention. The tweet “DID YOU KNOW Omar #Khadr suffered in Guantanamo so much he also took part in hunger strike? Imagine the agony that entails. #GTMO17” rapidly became viral.

video by Sara Naqwi

From among the tweets that gained instant popularity, here are some samples:

“Omar #Khadr: From the tender age of 15: 3949 DAYS STOLEN YOUTH, 3717 DAYS BAGRAM & GUANTANAMO, 232 DAYS GTMO NORTH IN CANADA”

“Most shocking finding since Omar’s return: Toews knows damn well #Khadr is innocent [at end in red]: http://t.co/Di2W6EBRsd #GTMO18 #cdnpoli”

“No more excuses Canada. Honor our Human Rights and FREE Omar #Khadr! http://t.co/UFxPoIP35X ”

“A small part of Omar #Khadr‘s last 11 years on this website. These stories are huge, each needs to be told. http://t.co/fsEdSPfiUX #OpGTMO

“Omar #Khadr should NOT be in prison right now. He should be given Nobel Peace Prize for surviving Gitmo, forgiving oppressors.”

“When media/politicians in Canada ‘recognize’ war crimes that do not exist in this country,they undermine our system of law. #Khadr”

“DID YOU KNOW that US blames Omar #Khadr for killing a US soldier who actually died in friendly fire? FYI http://t.co/eZqm9bPVox #OpGTMO

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Sara Naqwi is a member of the Free Omar Khadr Now Committee.


 

Why is the Canadian government afraid of Omar Khadr speaking?

Article by Monia Mazigh | May 10, 2013

About a week ago, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews overruled a decision made by the warden of Millhaven Institution, also known as Guantanamo North, and refused an interview request by the Canadian Press to speak with Omar Khadr over the phone.

This refusal was justified by the Minister’s office because of security concerns.

I am still trying to figure out how speaking on the phone from a maximum security prison can pose a threat to Canadians. Does it insinuate that Khadr will speak in encrypted messages to the journalist and to some shadowy accomplices? Or does it mean the interview poses a threat to the intelligence of people?

One has to remember that the refusal of the interview came few days after the speedy approval of the very controversial anti-terrorism bill S-7. So maybe, the government was so excited to see the bill passed amidst the growing fears created by the Boston Marathon attack and the sudden arrest of two Muslims suspected as terrorists, and thus didn’t want to wreck the perfect atmosphere by allowing an ex-Guantanamo detainee to tell his story and nuance the whole debate geared for tighter security measures.

There is no doubt that the refused Khadr interview will bring to the table the use of torture that many security experts still depict with a fancy and elaborate word like “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Khadr’s personal story, one that so far no one knows in detail, will speak to the intelligence of people rather than create security threats. It will make Khadr look more like a human being and a child soldier caught in a labyrinth of violence and war. Regardless of the guilt or innocence of Khadr, Canadians have the right to hear his story and make their own judgment. Canadians do not need a minister’s office to tell us what to read or to protect them from some “dangerous” reading.

read more: Rabble.ca | Why is the Canadian government afraid of Omar Khadr speaking?

Hope You Are Okay, Omar Khadr

By Ayesha Nasir, Karachi, Pakistan

omar khadrI have something in common with Omar Khadr. We are both fans of “The Hunger Games” – the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins. One of the most obvious differences between us is that I have not spent ten years of my youth in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As a 15-year-old, Omar Khadr was captured by the US Armed Forces in Afghanistan, when he was wounded twice in the back in a fire fight, which broke out in July, 2002. It was alleged that the teenager had killed a US Special Forces soldier during the fire fight. He had been in an Afghan compound, where he was a translator for his father’s acquaintance. From eastern Afghanistan, Omar was taken to Bagram in a critical condition; he had sustained wounds, which lead to “three holes in his body” and “shrapnel in his face”.

The native-born Canadian remained in the US custody for ten long years, during which his family and activists all over the world pressured the Canadian government to “bring him home”. Heather Marsh, a journalist vocally supporting Omar Khadr’s release, pointed out how “it is legal for US soldiers to kill children”, whereas “it is a war crime for children to kill US soldiers”, raising a valid concern about the double standards, which led to Omar Khadr being alleged with a war crime in the first place.

Omar Khadr’s imprisonment was handed out despite compelling evidence, which stated otherwise, while the United States and Canada ignored the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (to which they are signatories) and went ahead with his imprisonment. It was eight years later, in 2010, that the Canadian Supreme Court acknowledged the blatant abuse of Omar’s rights as a human and as a Canadian; the interrogation, which the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) made the “detained youth suspect” undergo was regarded as “a clear violation of Canada’s international human rights obligations” by the Canadian Supreme Court, who is known for its apparent impartiality and execution of justice.

At the time, Audrey Macklin, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto, wondered if the verdict of the Supreme Court of Canada on (a) that the government has violated Khadr’s Charter rights”, and (b) that Canada “should seek repatriation”, was “not enough to motivate this government to act” then there was no saying as to “what is enough to motivate this government to do the right thing”.

“I cried several times during the interrogation as a result of this treatment and pain. During this interrogation, the more I answered the questions and the more I gave him the answers he wanted, the less pain was inflicted on me. I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear, in order to keep them from causing me such pain” – from Omar’s affidavit statement on February 22, 2008.

Testimonies from other prisoners, such as Moazzam Begg, give detailed reports on the treatment he was made to undergo; David Hicks, an Australian prisoner, declared that he “saw US soldiers dragging Omar from his cage to a room used for interrogation just opposite from mine. For at least an hour, I heard him scream and yell in pain as they abused him. Omar was yelling, ‘Why are you doing this? … Please stop. … Somebody help me!’ There seemed to be no point to this brutality except to hurt him and break his will.”

It appears that living in the black hole for human rights did not break Omar’s spirit, for he was sent home to Canada on September 30, 2012, where, as of now, he remains incarcerated in a maximum security prison. Andy Worthington, a journalist, who has been following Omar Khadr’s case closely, admits that the Canadian government could keep him in custody for roughly half a decade more; an outcome of a plea deal made in October, 2010. Despite how reports on his case acknowledge his good behaviour during his ten-year imprisonment, parole remains nowhere near until at least 2015. After having spent considerable time with him, two of Omar Khadr’s US military lawyers describe him as “an intelligent young man” who possesses a “love of learning”.

This “love of learning” has been explored by Arlette Zinck, a professor of English at King’s University College in Edmonton, who took up the task of designing and delivering a study plan for Omar Khadr, while he was detained at Guantanamo Bay. The coursework assigned to him was something he pursued eagerly, a clear sign of a young mind being freshly exposed to a world of literature. As a teenager myself, I do not find it surprising, when interaction with Professor Zinck revealed that Omar identifies most to the character of Primrose Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, regarding her as the “moral centre” of the story. Through correspondence via letters and classes held inside prison, Zinck notes a “remarkable” thing about her unique student that regardless of his “exceptionally difficult circumstances”, he manages to find “a way to stay positive and hopeful when many grown men would not.” This is depicted in the “impressive” levels of “energy and determination he puts into his studies”.

Unpopular belief will see Omar Khadr as a political pawn in history by those, who wanted to justify and escape from their criminal actions. There are people, who view Omar Khadr as a radicalized terrorist; despite him having served more than his sentence under an unfair trial, they refuse to allow him to walk as a free man. The boy who will “forever be a murderer” for many is now a young man of 26, whom they do not want to walk as a free man, pursue his education, put his past behind him or even reunite with his family. Being a child soldier, who has been consistently deprived of the most basic of his rights, has put Omar Khadr in a unique position in history, the likes of which were seen somewhere around the second World War.

True rehabilitation, however, is a psychological experience, which will require efforts on the part of Omar, his family, supporters and legal team – the wounds left by the US military penal system will take time to heal. Rehabilitation is part of Corrections Canada’s philosophy and the attempt by the Professor Zinck and Omar’s legal team depicts, how false are the distortions surrounding Omar Khadr. His portrayal in the media is polarized, and, as Pakistanis, who can know better than us about the media’s role in electing the bad guy in the tale. The debate rages on the morality of acts done in the name of love and war, but as we have seen in the case of Omar Khadr, nothing was ever fair.

A decade ago, I was sitting in my school’s library watching “Dumbo” (1941), a Disney classic, and hiding tears over the imprisonment of a baby elephant’s mother, just because she was trying to protect him and appeared a threat while doing so. That is when it struck me: the bad guy in the tale is not always the one everyone points out to be. From this childhood lesson, I have learnt that although the true justice may never be handed out, it is not futile to pursue it. The struggle of the human spirit to resist injustice is a real one; the efforts of conscious individuals, who seek to bring pain to a closure, will echo in the pages of history for those ahead, who will look back and wonder, why there was so much silence for so painful a wound.

“About myself, what can I say? We hold on to hope in our hearts and the love from others to us and that keeps us going until we reach our happiness” – Omar Khadr to Arlette Zinck, in a letter dated January 22, 2009.

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Let Omar Khadr Speak

GLOBE EDITORIAL, followed by highest scoring comment 

May 1, 2013

Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, may be the only person in recent history convicted of (or even charged with) war crimes for offences committed when he was a juvenile. Canadians have a right to hear from him. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews won’t let them. He overruled a prison warden’s decision that would have allowed the Canadian Press to interview him.

For what possible reason would Mr. Toews interfere in an interview request with a prisoner? It is impossible to see how an interview would affect public safety. The only imaginable reason is political – a desire by at least some in the government to continue cultivating an image of Mr. Khadr, now 26, as an implacable terrorist. Allowing Canadians to come to their own opinion matters not at all.

Virtually from beginning to end, Mr. Khadr’s story has been bizaare. His father was a senior member of al-Qaeda who raised him from the age of 11 in Afghanistan, among terrorists. At 15 he was accused of killing a U.S. soldier and seriously wounding another in a battle in which he was wounded and barely survived. The U.S. passed a law saying it was a war crime for anyone to engage its soldiers in battle in Afghanistan. (A U.S. federal court have since said in two other cases that the country couldn’t create such war crimes after the fact.) For the next decade he was held in U.S. custody, mostly among the adult terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while Canada largely stood by. He was subjected to rough interrogations, and pleaded guilty in coercive conditions before a military tribunal. He may soon come up for a parole hearing in Canada.

There’s a lot Canadians would like to know. What does he think about his family’s support for al-Qaeda, and his own participation in a terrorist group? What was it like in Guantanamo? Why did he plead guilty? What are his aspirations? How can Canadians ever feel comfortable that he has left the terrorism of his youth behind?

Mr. Khadr should be treated as a prisoner like any other. The government of Canada, which has already been unanimously condemned by the Supreme Court for participating in violations of Mr. Khadr’s rights while he was in Guantanamo, should not be ordering a warden to keep a reporter away from him. Canadians have a right to find out who he is.

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Comment by Kirsten–T

The statements Vic Toews has made about Omar Khadr are highly prejudicial and inappropriate and are intended to inflame public opinion against Omar Khadr.

Omar Khadr was convicted in a court not recognised under US or International Law. His “confession” was extracted using coercive methods and was made under duress. He entered into a plea bargain where he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for assurances from the Canadian Government he would be repatriated back to Canada. The Canadian Government reneged on their agreement and he was left to languish in Gitmo for months.

Omar Khadr has never received due process. The evidence against him was never tested in a court of law to determine if it met the threshold of even warranting a conviction and his accusers have never been subject to cross examination. There is exculpatory evidence to suggest he is not guilty of what he has been accused of.

His charter rights as a Canadian citizen were violated and his treatment since the age of 15 has been deplorable.

Vic Toews does not want Omar Khadr to speak because he wants no light shed on the Harper Governments role in the violation of Omar Khadr’s rights and he doesn’t want Canadians to judge for themselves because he knows Omar Khadr is not the monster he has been made out to be.

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Source: The Globe and Mail | Editorials | Let Omar Khadr Speak