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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Age of Consent?

The youngest P.O.W.

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“For me, Omar’s age has always been the greatest factor,” says Michelle Shephard, a Toronto Star reporter who authored Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr (John Wiley & Sons). When Omar Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, he was 15 years old, a child soldier. While international sympathy has gone out to child soldiers in Sierra Leone, Uganda, Sri Lanka and other countries, American and Canadian sympathy for Khadr has been far more muted.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states that captivity for a child “shall be used only as a measure of last resort for the shortest appropriate period of time.” Khadr has been held for six years—his trial is just now in its initial stages—because President George Bush and his team have been busy making up the rules and procedures as they go along, twisting existing international and American laws in the process.

Khadr was taken captive when American troops overran a bombed-out building used by Al Qaeda forces. During the capture, weapons were fired from the ruins, wounding one soldier. Another was killed by a grenade. While Khadr was not the only person found alive, he was charged with throwing the grenade. Perhaps the bigger question is: At 15 years old, how did he find himself in that position?

Khadr came from an Al Qaeda family that was close to Osama bin Laden and the bin Laden family; his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, was a close associate of bin Laden. Ahmed Said Khadr was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces, during which another Khadr son was badly wounded. Part of the lack of sympathy for Omar is the continuing jihadist rhetoric coming from his family. His mother spoke approvingly of Omar’s activities to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “You would like me to raise my child in Canada and by the time he’s 12 or 13 he’ll be on drugs or having some homosexual relations or this and that?” she added.

In Guantanamo, Khadr has allegedly been subjected to harsh treatment. At one point, Shephard reports, he was bolted to the floor, hands and feet bound together. Left in that position for a long time, he eventually urinated on the floor. Guards poured pine oil on the puddle and then used Khadr as a mop. On more than one occasion, he was threatened with rape during interrogations. The United States is said to be making an example of Khadr. Lead prosecutor Col. Morris Davis even quit, saying that the commission hearing Khadr’s case is “a political commission.”

There is little to fault in Shephard’s account. Perhaps the only thing missing is a look at the neglect of Khadr’s education, certainly a must for any young person in custody. She goes beyond the details of the Khadr case and his situation at Guantanamo, interviewing U.S. soldiers, a soldier’s widow and members of the Khadr family. She hit the nail on the head when she made Khadr’s age the touchstone of the matter. But reactionary politicians on both sides of the border couldn’t care less.