Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Omar Khadr Pleads Guilty: A Sad Day for Justice

Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, has just plead guilty to murder, material support of terrorism, and other charges, bringing an end to his trial before the military commissions (click here to read the story: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/10/26/khadr.statement/index.html). According to his guilty plea, Khadr, who was just 15 at the time, voluntarily and intentionally threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002. Moreover, Khadr admitted to meeting Bin Laden, to training with other Al Qaeda operatives, and to engaging in terrorist acts against the United States. Of course, all of this is "true" only if we believe Khadr. And there are plenty of reasons not to.
Khadr was a child when arrested. Upon his arrest, he was held without charges and subjected to harsh treatment and endless interrogations. His statements, produced through such abusive interrogations, were admitted into evidence during Khadr's trial in the military commissions. Such statements, of course, would not be admissible in any civil or criminal trial in the United States, or in any other industrialized country using a "western" justice system. Such statements, on the contrary, are admissible in trials before the military commissions, under the infamous Military Commissions Act. Before the military commissions, Khadr faced an uncertain future, a long sentence and event the possibility of endless imprisonment (many detainees cleared of all charges before the commissions have been held indefinitely, under the United States government's argument that war prisoners can be held ad infinitum, or at least until the end of hostilities, or, in this case,the war on terror). Thus, when prosecutors presented him with a chance to plead guilty in exchange for a lenient sentence (most likely about 8 years) as well as a possibility to serve most of it in his home country of Canada, Khadr had no other alternative but to accept. He is 24 now; in 8 years, he will still have a chance for a normal life. And most likely, he cannot wait for a chance to leave the United States.
Who can blame him? Even if he did throw the grenade at American soldiers, which is dubious at best, under international law of armed conflict he should have been treated as a child soldier. Child soldiers do not face the same repercussions as adult soldiers, if caught by opposing forces. All international law authorities agree that child soldiers should be treated as victims of war, not as warriors. The United States government clearly missed this lesson of international law, when it chose to disregard all relevant rules, treat Khadr as an adult terrorist, and subject him to harsh treatment. Khard's Canadian lawyer, when interviewed by NPR journalists, expressed his sentiment that justice had not been served, and that the day of Khard's guilty plea was a sad one for justice. I could not agree any more. The imprisonment and trial of Omar Khadr did nothing but embarrass the United States and undermine our vision of justice before the rest of the world. The United States should fight terrorism, but it should do so within the bounds of international law and our own domestic legal system. It is time that Guantanamo be closed, detainees formally charged, if evidence permits it, and our federal courts used to prosecute those who threaten our country. Others, like Omar Khadr, who do not qualify for such prosecutions should be released. The desire to protect our country should never trump the interests of international justice and human rights.

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