Herewith the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. The nightmare for Omar Khadr continues. He has to stay, day in day out, in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison because the judge has decided this is the correct place for a child who has survived the horrors of Guantanamo.
With: Mr. Dennis Edney, Q.C., Omar Khadr’s defense counsel.
When: Thursday, October 17, 2013, 19:00
Where: Room 231/237 U of A Law Centre, Edmonton
CLAIHR U of A is pleased to host a presentation by Mr. Dennis Edney, Q.C., Omar Khadr’s defense counsel. Mr. Edney has agreed to speak to Faculty of Law students concerning Omar Khadr’s highly publicized case. There will be an opportunity for questions following the presentation.
With: Brigadier General (ret) Dr. Stephen Xenakis
When: Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 19:00
Where: University of Alberta Building ETLC Rm-1001, Edmonton
Although Mr. Harper and the Canadian government have chosen to demonize Omar Khadr, there are significant faces from the U.S Military and Canadian public who have actually met and spent time with Mr. Khadr and find that he is a compassionate human being who poses no threat to anyone.
Brigadier General (ret) Dr. Stephen Xenakis is a psychiatrist who has spent hundreds of hours with Omar Khadr over the past 5 years. Come out and join the discussion about his experiences with Omar in Guantanamo Bay and raise your own questions and concerns. Refreshments will be provided.
With: Attorney Samuel Morison, US Department of Defence
When: Tuesday, November 12, 19:00
Where: The Atrium at King’s University College, 9125 – 50 Street, Edmonton
Samuel Morison has practiced law for more than 20 years and is a national recognized expert on federal executive clemency and the restoration of civil rights. He will speak about Omar Khadr’s appeal before the US Federal Court.
- Omar Khadr in Court: Eight ways the mainstream media missed the real story by Kathleen Copps (Rabble);
- Omar Khadr: War criminal, Child soldier …. or neither? [en français] by Heather Marsh (VICE);
- Omar Khadr’s lawyer decries government interference by Sheila Pratt (Edmonton Journal);
- Omar Khadr smiles at supporters in Edmonton court (CBC);
- Omar Khadr appears in Edmonton courtroom (CBC-player, 2.59 min.).
Omar Khadr is finally eligible for day parole. But when will he have justice?
In Canada we do still have a relatively civilized justice system. As we saw in the US state cables, Canada’s justice system was deemed too civilized to convict Omar Khadr and that is why he was kept in Guantanamo and Bagram since he was 15.
As we all know, there is nothing lawful about the conviction of Omar Khadr. The specially created court, the retroactively applied law, the tampered with and restricted evidence and testimony, the indefinite detention and torture leading up to his detention all resulted in a verdict no country with any respect for the law can accept. Even the US itself does not accept this court’s rulings as it showed in the overturned verdict for former Gauntanamo inmate Hamdan.
The treatment of Omar Khadr over the past 11 years is indeed a tragedy for him. It is impossible to look clearly at what that child, now man, has been through and not feel the scope of this. But the tragedy for Canada is far greater. Our treatment of Omar Khadr is so far below any human rights disaster we have ever been responsible for that I think most Canadians cannot face what we have done. We are alone in the world in our treatment of out citizen at Guantanamo. I believe this case has fundamentally changed who Canadians are and the way in which we can view ourselves.
While Omar still has his integrity, we have lost ours.
By Ayesha Nasir, Karachi, Pakistan
I 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.
By Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail Apr. 27 2013
Omar Khadr’s plea-bargained guilty plea and conviction on murder, terrorism and spying charges will be appealed to a U.S. civilian federal court that has tossed out similar Guantanamo military tribunal convictions for two high-profile al-Qaeda defendants.
If the appeal succeeds, Mr. Khadr could be freed immediately.
His lawyers expect the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn Mr. Khadr’s conviction – just as it did in the cases of two of Osama bin Laden’s close personal aides, Ali Hamza Bahlul and Salim Hamdan, both also convicted at Guantanamo.
That would create consternation in Ottawa, where ministers have called Mr. Khadr a terrorist and successive Liberal and Conservative governments refused to extricate him from Guantanamo despite his Canadian citizenship and his hotly debated status as a child soldier under international law. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to multiple crimes committed in Afghanistan in 2002. As part of that plea, he confessed to throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Sergeant Christopher Speer.
The Pentagon’s Office of the Chief Defense Counsel has named an appellate team of attorneys for Mr. Khadr led by a civilian Sam Morison. Now armed with a formal go-ahead from Mr. Khadr, the team is expected to file the appeal soon.
They’re confident the military tribunal convictions will be overturned. “In our view there are serious questions about the validity of all these convictions,” Mr. Morison said, adding: “As the law now stands, I don’t see how his convictions can be affirmed.”
In rulings on Mr. Hamdan last October and again in January on Mr. al-Bahlul, the civilian appeals court overturned the terrorism convictions against the two. It concluded the military war crimes tribunal created by the George W. Bush administration after the 2001 terrorist attack that levelled New York’s twin towers and left the Pentagon ablaze had tried and convicted detainees on crimes that didn’t exist when the defendants were captured. President Barack Obama has opted to retain the military commissions and keep Guantanamo running, despite his pre-2008 election vow to close the infamous prison complex.
Mr. Khadr’s case is additionally complicated because, unlike Mr. Hamdan or Mr. al-Bahlul, he pleaded guilty at his week-long trial in October, 2010, that included a remorseful statement to Sgt. Speer’s widow. As part of that deal, Mr. Khadr waived his right to appeal.
Mr. Khadr admitted to murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism and spying.
But if the underlying acts weren’t crimes – at least not war crimes – then the waiver may also be unreliable and the appeal could still be accepted by the U.S. federal court.
“Not only weren’t they war crimes at the time of their commission but, I would argue,” Mr. Morison said, “that none of them are crimes today, not in international law.”
The exception is spying, which was so broadly redefined in the Military Commissions Act, it bears little resemblance to espionage as defined in international law.
It could be months before the appeal is formally launched, let alone heard.
In the meantime, Mr. Khadr, who has been held prisoner since 2002, will be eligible under Canadian law for a parole hearing in July this year, when he will have served one-third of the eight-year sentence he agreed to at his 2010 trial.
Mr. Khadr, near death, was dug out of the rubble of an Afghan compound bombed by U.S. warplanes in June, 2002, where the then-15-year-old son of a major al-Qaeda figure was living with a group of militants building and planting roadside bombs.
Even if Mr. Khadr threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, killing a combatant on a battlefield isn’t a war crime except in narrowly defined cases. Those include shooting a defenseless descending parachutist, a wounded soldier or one indicating surrender.
MORE RELATED TO THIS STORY
Omar Khadr’s lawyer Dennis Edney’s Talk | Vancouver April 16, 2013
A court of appeals last month overturned the U.S. military court in Guantanamo Bay’s murder and terrorism convictions of Ali Hamza al Bahlul, a Yemeni who was Osama bin Laden’s publicist, on the grounds that the charges on which he was convicted were not internationally recognized as war crimes.
Mr. Khadr’s lawyer and others say such rulings raise grave doubts about the validity of Mr. Khadr’s guilty plea to terrorism and murder charges in the same court, because those were not war crimes in 2002 when the Canadian teenager was involved in a gun battle in which a U.S. soldier died.
Mr. Khadr, currently in a Canadian maximum security prison, wants his plea-bargained conviction appealed, said his lawyer, Dennis Edney.
And human rights experts believe he has a solid case, although the Canadian government seems keen to keep Mr. Khadr, now 26, locked up as long as possible.
Mr. Edney said Mr. Khadr was wrongfully convicted and wants the Pentagon to appoint counsel to appeal.
Mr. Edney wrote in a Jan. 29, 2013, letter to Bryan Broyles, deputy chief defence counsel for the U.S. war crimes tribunals, that Mr. Khadr wants to “appeal all of the convictions entered against him in October, 2010,” and asked for a legal team to launch the appeal. Mr. Broyles has yet to reply, and declined to respond to written questions from The Globe and Mail.
“It is astounding no notice of appeal was filed on behalf of Omar Khadr while other detainees have had their appeals filed and successfully appealed by military defence counsel,” Mr. Edney said.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out the convictions against Mr. al Bahlul, Mr. Broyles denounced the original prosecution saying: “The only basis on which the United States relied was their fanciful notion of U.S. common law of war, something which doesn’t actually exist.”
The same appeals court had earlier tossed out the terrorism conspiracy conviction of Salim Hamdan, one of Mr. bin Laden’s drivers, on similar grounds, that the crimes he was convicted of did not exist until they were created by the Bush administration.
Mr. Khadr’s chance of having his convictions vacated are complicated by several circumstances, not least that, as part of his plea bargain deal, he waived his right to appeal. He is also now back in Canada, outside of U.S. jurisdiction.
Mr. Khadr also agreed to plead guilty to murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism.
Even if Mr. Khadr threw the grenade that caused the death of U.S. special forces Sergeant Christopher Speer, killing a combatant on a battleground is not a war crime under international law except in some circumstances. Even if Mr. Khadr should have faced charges for the killing, said Andrea Prasow, the senior counter-terrorism counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch’s U.S. program, it should have been as a criminal homicide in Afghanistan.“These weren’t crimes in violation of the laws of war at the time they were committed,” Ms. Prasow said in an interview. “They weren’t then, and they are not now,” she added. That was the fundamental reason the U.S. appeals court tossed out the Guantanamo convictions of Hamdan and al-Bahlul.
That a child soldier – Mr. Khadr was 15 in 2002 – was charged at all, let alone by an offshore war crimes tribunal created by the Bush administration to skirt U.S. constitutional protections, has outraged rights groups for more than a decade. But unlike Britain and Australia, which insisted on the rapid repatriation of their citizens, successive Canadian governments wanted Mr. Khadr held and tried in Guantanamo.
Although the military jury sentenced him to 40 years, the plea deal added only another eight years to the eight Mr. Khadr had already spent in Guantanamo, and the chance to be sent to Canada, the country of his birth, to serve most of the remaining sentence. Under Canadian law, he is eligible for parole on July 1, but the Harper government is expected to opposed his release vigorously, arguing he is a dangerous, convicted terrorist.
Were a U.S. appeals court to overturn the conviction on the grounds that the crimes on which he was convicted didn’t exist in 2002, Mr. Khadr might be entitled to immediate release.
PRESS TV: “Unscrupulous Canadian journalists and politicians refer to Omar Khadr as a self-confessed “war criminal” but his lawyer, Dennis Edney, argues that he is a victim of war, who, at the hands of genuine war criminals in Western governments, has been unlawfully incarcerated, tortured, and denied basic civil liberties.”
By Aisha Maniar | Februari 25, 2013
Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantánamo Bay was released to Canada on 29 September 2012, ten days after his26th birthday. Captured in Afghanistan in July 2002 aged 15, his release should have been good news, ending a journey that started halfway across the world and has seen him spend almost half his life behinds bars. Instead, upon return, he was taken immediately to the Millhaven Institution in Bath, Ontario, a maximum security prison, where he remains imprisoned.
Omar Khadr in 2002 and 2010
Each of the almost 800 prisoners held at Guantánamo has a compelling tale to tell, yet Omar Khadr’s is unique in many ways: the most obvious distinction being his age. Unlike other child prisoners, he was always treated as an adult. Subject to torture, including waterboarding, this provided some of the evidence used to charge him for various war crimes shortly after he turned 19 in 2005.
Omar Khadr’s military commission has unique features: upon inauguration to his first term as president, constitutional lawyer Barack Obama signed a presidential decree to close Guantánamo and suspend military commissions. Neither has happened and with a revised Military Commissions Act in force by the end of 2009, Khadr was the first person to be tried in Barack Obama’s presidency. As the offences he is alleged to have committed took place when he was 15, he is also the only person to be tried by a military tribunal for war crimes committed as a minor since World War II. This disturbing development received international condemnation.
Facing a life sentence without proper due process, in a secret plea bargain in October 2010, he pleaded guilty to all the charges against him: the murder of an American soldier, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism and spying. Possibly his only way out, under this deal, he would serve just one more year at Guantánamo Bay and the remaining seven years of his sentence in Canada. Although not a party to the bargain, the exchange of diplomatic notes to the effect that Canada would agree to repatriate him after an additional year in Guantánamo was a part of this agreement. Omar Khadr was due for release in October 2011; it took another 11 months for it to happen.
This is largely down to the Canadian government. Having only met all of Canada’s conditions for repatriation in April 2012, the US then formally submitted Omar Khadr’s transfer application. Vic Toews, the Canadian Minister of Public Safety, responsible for this transfer, sought medical reports and a video to help make his assessment of the security risk he posed. This video was an interview conducted with Omar Khadr by Dr Michael Welner, a psychiatrist and prosecution witness who described him as “highly dangerous” and having “rock star” status at Guantánamo. Influential during the trial, Welner’s evidence is known to be biased and has been discredited by other psychiatrists. Writing in the New York Times shortly after Khadr’s release, Dr Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired psychiatrist and former US army brigadier general, who had spent hundreds of hours assessing Khadr since 2008, stated that he was “emphatically not” the dangerous man Welner claimed.
In his own psychiatric report to Vic Toews, submitted in February 2011, Xenakis dismissed Welner’s findings and approach: “He based his opinion on clinical interviews and reviews of medical records from his capture and detention. His findings are questionable as his medical examination did not follow the standards of usual practice.” Xenakis’ own assessment is that “Mr. Khadr can successfully transition from Guantanamo because of his remarkably positive outlook, his talent for building positive relationships, and his optimistic temperament.” He further advised that “keeping him incarcerated and living under conditions of imprisonment provides little chance for rehabilitation or preparation to live in society.” This report was ignored.
Legal formalities and posturing aside, Canada could have demanded Omar Khadr’s return at any time. Indeed, this request for information was further stalling of the repatriation; having received the information in early September, Vic Toews’ request was accepted days after it was sent. Canada could have requested his return to the country at any time since July 2002. Omar Khadr stands out as the only western citizen whose country did not seek his repatriation.
Canada’s treatment of Omar Khadr has smacked of hypocrisy and duplicity throughout: a champion of the rights of war children, Canada was an early signatory of the Optional Protection of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (ICRC) on the involvement of children in armed conflict in 2000. In 2008, a report by the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights recommended the Canadian government seeks Khadr’s immediate release and that “an appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration program is developed for Omar Khadr.” Also in 2008, it emerged that Canadian intelligence officers had interrogated him at Guantánamo in 2003 in a process that breached international law. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the Canadian government’s refusal to repatriate him was unconstitutional and breached his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but stopped short of ordering it to demand his release. As recently as October 2012, in its review of children’s rights in Canada, the ICRC recommended that Canada rehabilitate Omar Khadr.
In making his safety assessment, Vic Toews chose to rely on Dr Welner’s prejudiced analysis. In astatement he made upon Omar Khadr’s return to Canada, Toews called Khadr “a known supporter of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and a convicted terrorist”. Dr Welner’s untested allegations about the Khadr family’s association with terrorism and Omar Khadr’s alleged fundamentalist fervour saw him transferred immediately to “Millhaven, one of the toughest prisons in the country. [which has…] been dubbed “Guantanamo North”.” These elements were picked up immediately by the Canadian media, keen to paint Omar Khadr as unrepentant, an image that, while feeding media hysteria, also successfully deflected the Canadian government’s own negligence and betrayal of a Canadian citizen.
His situation is as precarious as it has been over the past decade, and his fate lies in the hands of Canadian justice, specifically the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), which is overseen by Vic Toews. In late December, it emerged that the CSC considers Omar Khadr a “maximum security” prisoner due to his murder and terrorism conviction, with his status due to be reviewed in December 2014. This assessment fails to take into account the dubious conditions that, involving torture and an unfair legal process, helped to obtain this conviction and as a result, day parole which otherwise would have been due next month is now almost completely unlikely. Applying the “Custody Rating Scale” point system, his first-degree murder conviction confers him with enough points to be considered a “maximum security” risk. With Khadr back home, the Canadian government’s attitude does not seem to be changing. Recognising some of these longstanding issues, Amnesty Canada launched a campaign action last year, Omar Khadr: The Case is not closed.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of Omar Khadr’s ordeal is the Canadian government’s singular and dogged faith in the military commission system at Guantánamo Bay. During his military commission, the Canadian government was satisfied with US assurances about proceedings, particularly with respect to his age at the time being taken into consideration, in spite of international condemnation of both the US and Canada in this regard. Canada’s blind faith in the lawfulness of such convictions is one not even shared by the US’ own federal courts.
On 16 October 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the 2008 conviction of former prisoner Salim Hamdan by military commission for “material support for terrorism”, one of the charges Omar Khadr was also convicted of, due to the retroactive nature of the offence, as the alleged offences took place years before the Military Commissions Act created them. This crucial judgment made just weeks before the US presidential election shattered the illusion of any legitimacy the few convictions obtained at Guantánamo Bay may have. The US government had until January to appeal but did not. Last month, based on this judgment, another conviction, the life sentence of Yemeni prisoner Hamza Al Bahlul was also overturned. Omar Khadr is likely to appeal too. The Canadian government’s faith in the military commissions is undermined further by the ongoing farce of the 9/11 military commissions, also affected by the Hamdan ruling.
The onus is now on the Canadian government and questions over its failure to meet its legal and moral obligations to one vulnerable citizen. Beyond its mantra of “Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist”, there is very little to sustain its untenable position.
Omar Khadr is not the only prisoner to have been further incarcerated on his release from Guantánamo Bay. Australian David Hicks, the first person to be convicted at Guantánamo Bay, entered a similar plea bargain where he pleaded guilty in return for a seven-year sentence, which was suspended except for 9 months which he served in an Australian jail. He was released in 2007. One day after the Hamdan judgment, he said he would appeal his conviction.
Guantánamo Bay has created its own “refugee” situation: of the remaining 166 prisoner, more than half are unable to return home. For many of the prisoners cleared for release, the option of going home does not exist for fear of further persecution and imprisonment. To deal with this “refugee” situation, various third states have accepted more than 40 prisoners. Slovakia agreed to resettle three such prisoners in a “”gesture of solidarity” in support of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy” in late 2009. However, by June 2010, six months after their arrival in Slovakia, the men went on hunger strike in protest at their continued detention at an asylum detention centre whose conditions they claimed were “worse than Guantánamo”. All three had been cleared for release years before arriving in Slovakia and were under the impression they would be resettled and rehabilitated. The situation improved following international awareness and criticism. After the Arab Spring in 2011, two of the men felt that the security situation in their home countries would be safe enough for them to return. Rafiq Al Hami returned to Tunisia where he is rebuilding his life with his family. Adel Al Gazzar, optimistic of the changes under the new regime in Egypt, was promptly arrested and imprisoned upon his return to the country in 2011 for a conviction made in his absence in 2002. He has since been released and reunited with his family. The third man, Polad Sirajov from Azerbaijan, remains in Slovakia.
Perhaps the worst case of post-return persecution is that of 29-year old Russian citizen Rasul Kudaev. From the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) in the North Caucasus (southern Russia), he was arrested in Afghanistan aged 17* where he fled to avoid military service. Posing no risk, he was considered for transfer back to Russia by the US once the two countries had shared the intelligence beaten out of him at the end of 2002. He was released in February 2004. He returned home with a series of illnesses, a limp and physically unable to work. [Source: HRW].
Following militant attacks in October 2005 in the city of Nalchik where he lived, he was arrested with 58 others, and has been held since at a pre-trial detention centre where they are awaiting trial. Beaten as he was taken from his home, he had to be carried into court a few days later due to the severity of the beatings. By early November, pictures of his abuse and that of other prisoners circulated; Kudaev’s face was swollen and bruised. He was beaten so badly that human rights investigators fear he has permanent facial disfigurement. He was charged with various terrorism offences as a result. In 2006, his lawyers contested the evidence as it was obtained through torture but that was thrown out. His health has deteriorated progressively and his mother expressed serious concerns after a visit in January 2013.
The trial has been delayed for various reasons. The prosecution has given its evidence and Rasul Kudaev will be one of the last defendants to give his next month; the case should conclude later this year. His lawyers will also apply for bail until the judgment. In what has been largely a show trial, Amnesty International has expressed “little hope” in the outcome.
Years of abuse and injustice at Guantánamo Bay have so far resulted in a zero successful conviction rate and no credible evidence, just George Bush’s say-so that these are “bad men”. The least one may expect released prisoners to expect is rehabilitation and due process, and certainly not further imprisonment and persecution, especially of the most vulnerable. To deal with this pressing need,Reprieve, the human rights NGO which has and continues to represent dozen of prisoners, including the three men sent to Slovakia, set up the Life After Guantanamo project in 2010. Polly Rossdale from the project explains the needs former prisoners have and why such a project is so important:
“There has been no justice, apology, or compensation to a single victim of US-sponsored torture in Guantanamo. Former detainees are faced with the challenge of recovery from trauma in places and communities that are often either poorly resourced, lacking the necessary torture rehabilitation skills or are hostile to their presence. The Life after Guantanamo project seeks to facilitate appropriate medical, psychological, legal and social support for these men and their families. We assist with a range of issues including finding accommodation; family reunification; countering isolation; dealing with restrictions on freedom of movement and an uncertain legal status; and obtaining financial support to accessing education, training and employment.”
This year has seen some positive changes for Omar Khadr: last month, Dennis Edney, who previously acted as Khadr’s lawyer and championed his case far and wide, was reappointed to represent him in a case before the Canadian Federal Court against the Canadian government for breach of his constitutional rights. This move is likely to expedite his other demands and see the positive profile of his case rise again. Earlier this month, he was also moved out of solitary confinement, and is reported to be getting on well with other prisoners; this is the first time he has been out of solitary confinement since his conviction in 2010. A new petition has been put together calling on the Canadian government to release Omar Khadr and rehabilitate him, both a reasonable and the only viable proposition to deal with the current situation.
Many thanks to Reprieve and Amnesty International for their assistance. You can write to Omar Khadr at: Omar Khadr, Millhaven Institution, Hwy 33, PO Box 280, Bath, Ontario, K0H 1G0, Canada
* Rasul Kudaev was captured aged 17 (a minor) in Afghanistan, however by the time he arrived at Guantánamo in 2002 he was 18, a legal adult.