By Hazel Gabe, member FreeOmar Khadr Now – Committee | February 2015
Canada has “fallen into lawlessness,” says Omar Khadr’s lawyer. And we are all culpable.
At a talk at Carleton University on Feb. 4th 2015, renowned human rights lawyer Dennis Edney gave a call to action against what he described as Canada’s descent beyond the rule of law. The treatment of Omar Khadr by the Canadian government is not only about the torture and abuse of one young Canadian – as if this were not bad enough. It is also an abuse of our collective rights – and the foundations of our society.
Omar Khadr was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay at fifteen years old. He spent a decade in Guantanamo before facing the US Military Commission’s spurious kangaroo court process, which allowed evidence obtained under torture and retroactively applied crimes, thus failing the most basic tests of a fair court. The charges themselves were not legally recognized war crimes, but rather were crimes invented by the US government. Yet Canada continues to imprison Khadr based on this process.
Speaking to a full house of students, faculty and members of the public, Edney made an entreaty for Canadians to speak up against the erosion of the rule of law in this country. He spoke, he said, not only as a lawyer, but as a father who had been profoundly changed by what he witnessed at Guantanamo.
Omar Khadr is a native of Toronto and was in Afghanistan with his family in 2002, aged fifteen, when the compound he had been left at by his father was attacked by US forces.
Omar was severely wounded in the air bombardment, riddled with shrapnel and blinded in one eye. While he was in this condition, a US Special Forces soldier shot him twice in the back – a war crime in itself under the Geneva Conventions. Within days of being shot, while still in critical condition and bleeding from gaping bullet wounds in his chest, he was subject to torture by US military personnel. It was at this point he was accused of having killed an American soldier. Interrogators tied him in painful stress positions to aggravate his wounds, hung him by his wrists for hours on end, and subjected him to a litany of other cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment.
Omar’s torture is now a matter of public record, Edney pointed out on Wednesday, citing legal documents such as Omar’s affidavit, the testimony of Omar’s interrogators themselves and of other prisoners held with him. Omar’s chief interrogator, Sgt. Joshua Claus, later pled guilty to crippling two prisoners and murdering two others who died after his interrogations. Edney described that in his own personal interviews with Claus, the man confessed that he had never been harder on anyone than he was on Omar.
It is under these conditions that Omar made his “confession.” This was the only evidence against him, and to this day he is still imprisoned in Canada based on it.
Omar’s decade of imprisonment and torture in Guantanamo was illegal under international and Canadian laws, but was allowed to continue by the Canadian government. The first duty of a government is to the safety of its citizens, and especially its children. But instead of providing consular assistance and requesting his repatriation, as did all other Western democracies for their citizens at “Gitmo,” the Canadian government actively took advantage of Omar’s situation to contribute to his further torture and indefinite detention.
During his talk, Edney described the Military Commission Process at Guantanamo as a “pantomime court.” It is widely known in Canada that Omar was offered a plea deal. It was one he was coerced by circumstances to take. “He didn’t want to plead guilty,” says Edney. “He didn’t want to go back to Canada as a ‘terrorist’.”
Had he not signed, according to the Pentagon, even if the commission ruled him innocent he could still have faced a lifetime of imprisonment at Guantanamo.
Make no mistake that the Canadian government knows all the details of Khadr’s torture and abuses, Edney says. The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed. On the two occasions it’s seen the case, in 2008, and again in 2010, it ruled that the Canadian Government was complicit in the violations of Omar’s Geneva and Charter rights.
Yet Omar remains imprisoned. Since coming to Canada, he has spent months in solitary confinement, or in danger from the prisoners around him thanks to having been classified a maximum security risk by the Canadian government, against the advice of American officials. He has not had access to the medical care he needs, and is currently losing the vision in his remaining eye.
All this speaks to the abandoning of fundamental principles of justice that have been in place since the 1700s – the right to habeas corpus, to escape guilt and fear by association – as well as principles enshrined in the Geneva conventions, the declaration of human rights, and the declaration on the rights of the child. It is this that Mr. Edney referred to in decrying the failure of the rule of law in this country.
“There is no greater betrayal of Canada than for our government to be implicated in the torture of a Canadian citizen,” Edney said. He placed the burden on all Canadians for failing to make their government take responsibility. His talk could have been called “the evils of apathy,” he said, urging the audience to speak up about the injustices and not to settle for a society that makes decisions based on fear.
“When we are ruled by fear in society, it is then that we fall into lawlessness… [and it is] precisely one of the aims of terrorism to create a climate of fear.”
Edney continued that if this can happen to one young boy, who should have been guaranteed all sorts of protections, protections as a citizen, and child, it can happen to any of us.
The rule of law must be applied to everyone or it means nothing. This is the foundation of our society. And if the rule of law means nothing, none of us are safe.
“Worse, far worse,” said Edney, “we bequeath this social legacy to our children.”