The silence surrounding Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid caught in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured by the US and tortured at Bagram and Guantanamo for ten years. Eventually, he signed a plea deal admitting guilt in killing Special Forces Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the battle. He continues his legal saga in solitary confinement in Canada. 

Omar was not supposed to be in the compound on the day he was injured. A family acquaintance had taken 15 year old Omar with him as a translator as he was fluent in four languages. According to multiple sources close to him, Omar says he was the first person wounded in the attack on the compound he was in. He says the others carried him to shelter throughout the hours of fighting until he was shot twice in the back. He survived so long because he was not in the active fighting.

His story, the only firsthand account possible, still has not been heard by the Canadian public or Canadian courts. It can’t be heard at this point because if he says he didn’t throw the grenade the parole board will say he is not taking responsibility for his actions. If he talks about his captivity, the US military will call it recidivism as they have in the past when Guantanamo victims were released and spoke about their experiences.

At Guantanamo, his conversations with other captives, guards and even his lawyers were strictly controlled. His defence counsel Dennis Edney says he was repeatedly dragged off to a cell by guards simply for asking his client “What’s wrong?” Edney was accompanied to the washroom by guards and if he had been discovered smuggling news to Omar (which he did) he would have faced thirty years in a US prison himself. Omar’s counsel were even prevented from playing dominos and chess during counsel visits. “There was no attorney – client privilege,” says Edney.

Omar refused for eight years to sign a plea deal confessing his guilt to a crime he says he did not commit as he told Edney repeatedly, “What would Canadians think of me?” Edney says he did everything he could to convince Omar to take the plea deal for eight additional years as he was never going to get a fair trial. Omar’s previous US military counsel Colby Vokey said in 2007 he would encourage Khadr to plead guilty to the “JFK assassination,” if it meant he could go home.

Omar told Edney during the August 2010 Guantanamo commission trial, “We’re embarrassing ourselves by being here.” He boycotted the proceedings in July, saying “How can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?” Videos of Omar’s interrogation in a documentary by the same name show him telling his captors, “You don’t like the truth.”

“The whole trial system is a sham. There was a complete lack of due process. It is disturbing and embarrassing what is going on down there,” said Colby.

“But let’s face it, this is all about politics,” said Former Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. By Davis’s account Jim Haynes, the man who oversaw the tribunal process, told him, “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.”

“The compound could not be secured as there were other Taliban around”

When Omar was captured, we were first told he had killed a US ‘medic’ and he was the only one still alive to do so. This would have been a real war crime under the Geneva Conventions, if it had been done knowingly, the medic was wearing clear insignia and the medic was not active in combat. We know Christopher Speer was an elite commando and a member of the 19th Special Forces Group. The Guantanamo Commission witness known only as OC-1, a member of Speer’s unit, testified that training as a medic was a standard part of the training of the elite Special Forces unit which all members went through. They did not act as medics.

Edney described the testimony of OC-1 to me. “He told the judge, the firefight is what he would refer to as a clusterfuck. He enters the compound, shoots one man in the head, sees Omar with his back to him and facing a wall – Omar is screaming from his injuries from the bombing – and OC-1 shoots him twice in the back. OC-1 then exits the alley. In doing so he hears a grenade being thrown. He does not see who threw it. What is also significant is that he orders everyone to leave the compound as it could not be secured as there were other Taliban around – meaning other individuals could have thrown the grenade.”

From OC-1’s verbal account of not being able to secure the area, it is apparent there were far more people than just Omar still alive and capable of throwing grenades at that point. In 2008 the US military accidentally gave a room full of reporters the original report filed from OC-1 which, while leaving out the testimony of a grenade being thrown after Omar was shot, showed that the US military had falsified the official report and the other man beside him was still alive. There was also forensic wound analysis on US Special Forces Sergeant Speer that indicated friendly fire from a US grenade and OC-1’s report and testimony confirm the US was throwing grenades at the time Speer was killed.

OC-1 also testified that his actions in the compound were completed in under a minute. Quite a feat if he had been a medic.

OC-1 testified that Sergeant Layne Morris was injured by pebbles spitting back from the rock wall they were stationed behind. Morris himself said “I thought, dang, my rifle just exploded on me.” Morris successfully sued Omar’s father for damages of $102.6 million in 2006, along with Speer’s widow. He claimed he was partially blinded in one eye by shrapnel from the grenade which killed Speer even though he was airlifted out with a bleeding nose hours before Speer was killed. Morris retired at 40 and has since been a media favourite for providing testimony against Omar, a child and man he never met.

Omar’s cellmate Omar Deghayes had his eye gouged out by a Guantanamo guard during an interrogation, but has never received compensation. Neither has Omar ever received compensation for his ongoing injuries.

“Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr.”

Information on Omar’s case has been kept under intense lockdown since he was captured. He was not allowed to speak to his family for five years. He did not have even a US military lawyer for over two years. When he did talk to his family, a Foreign Affairs official had to be present and ensure “Absolutely NO ATTORNEYS can be present or the call will be refused.” The calls had to be in English despite other detainees being allowed to speak in Arabic. He was forbidden a pen in his room when other detainees were allowed them.

The leaked Guantanamo files showed us in the first line of Omar’s file that the primary interest the US had in him was they didn’t like his dad’s friend. Osama bin Laden was an acquaintance of Omar’s dad from back in the days when the US considered bin Laden a ‘good guy’, when al Qaeda were backed by the US to fight the Russians. Omar’s continued detention was recommended as “Detainee continues to provide valuable information on his father’s associates.”

In 2003, the year after Omar’s capture, Canada suddenly acquired a Ministry of Public Safety which appears to trump both the Canadian courts and the Ministry of Justice in issuing decrees over Omar’s future. We probably should ask how we are ensuring public safety now if not through justice.

This Orwellian Ministry was not much help when a Canadian murdered and ate someone, posted a video of it to our heavily surveilled Internet and then passed through four heavily surveilled international airports before being caught by a German citizen. The Ministry is however, interrupting our prison systems with an unprecedented order stopping Omar from speaking to reporters, overriding our parole boards with statements on Omar’s ineligibility for parole and vowing to fight ‘vigorously’ any attempt to move Omar from solitary confinement in federal prison. The Ministry has also made a statement that sounds very much like it would not recognize a successful appeal by Omar in a US appeal court, despite the fact that they recognized his conviction by a Guantanamo commission. In case the message wasn’t clear, Prime Minister Harper echoed the Minister’s warnings on the day of Omar’s hearing to be transferred to a provincial prison in what can only be seen as attempted political interference in the judicial system.

The Canadian government has appealed Omar’s right to see the evidence against him all the way up to the Supreme Court. They refused to allow his interrogation videos to be released because Canadians might have “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty.” The Minister of Public Safety demanded Omar’s psychiatrist interviews from the US but refused to release them. Someone leaked them for us. After all the legal battles we still have seen only about fourteen pages of the thousands Canada has in his interrogation file. Considering what has already been revealed, Canadians really need to see what else is in there.

Canada, unlike every other western country, refused to request repatriation or humane treatment of their citizen. They were offered the opportunity to try Omar in a Canadian court and they refused because they said he would never be convicted in a Canadian court. This we learned from the US state cables (thank you, Chelsea Manning).

The US was left with the task of inventing a court and some crimes to apply retroactively. They destroyed evidence, disallowed defence witnesses, used evidence obtained under torture and hired the best discredited witness money could buy. All of this to get Omar labeled with a guilty verdict and out of Guantanamo as the only person charged with murder despite the 6,735 US military killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Five years after Omar’s capture, the first incarnation of the Guantanamo trials began. Omar was selected, out of all the possible contenders, to represent the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ at Guantanamo and stand trial. There was no question his case would have appeal, Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis said. “Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr. People understand murder.”

Most people didn’t understand it wasn’t a real murder charge, which would have been tried in a civilian court. Murder is unlawful killing; in war it is legal, protected as “combatant’s privilege.” Most people’s sex lives don’t involve trying a tortured child on a trumped up charge that carried the death penalty either.

Khadr’s case appeared personal for some members of the US military and not just from loyalty to their own. The persistent rumours (and evidence) of Speer’s death by friendly fire may have contributed to the need for deflection, but the highly sympathetic presence of his widow was another definite factor. She had spent the trial period in close social contact with all members of the jury, a fact mentioned by most in attendance but not reported in the news. She also gave lengthy testimony at his trial on the impact of Speer’s death on her family, referring to Omar as forever a murderer and “someone who is so unworthy”. Most observers described the testimony as “heart wrenching” or similar and it received extensive media coverage.

There was also lengthy victim impact testimony from members of the US military, referred to by Canada’s media as “warrior brothers of the U.S. soldier killed by Mr. Khadr.” In the end, the jury sentenced Omar to forty years on top of the eight he had already served without knowing he had signed a plea deal. For a sentence greater than ten years, six of the seven jurors must have agreed to it. Speer’s widow gave a fist pumping cheer when she heard the sentence, which was fifteen years more than the prosecution had asked for. The Speer family have been the beneficiaries of several fundraising campaigns since the trial.

“Serious legal consequences”

In 2011, Edney, Omar’s most outspoken advocate and legal counsel, was planning on bringing a challenge to Omar’s verdict. In April 2011 we had a taped conversation which we agreed to resume when he returned from seeing Omar at Guantanamo. Edney was concerned that if the full information in the interview was printed at that time, he would not be allowed on the plane to Guantanamo as had happened in the past. When he returned from Guantanamo he was fired by Omar, who told several sources he was given misinformation to encourage him to do so. Omar’s new counsel had a gag order on Edney.

Those new lawyers took five and a half months past the date Omar was eligible for transfer to file an application for Ottawa to transfer him and another three months to ask for a review of the delay in transferring. On July 3, 2012, two of my full taped conversations with Edney were leaked to the online website Cryptome. Within minutes of Cryptome posting the link on Twitter, I received an email asking me to phone Omar’s new counsel. This efficiency and speed from the firm that brought Omar home eleven months late was breathtaking.

When I spoke to counsel Brydie Bethell she demanded repeatedly to know who had authorized the leak, apparently not being familiar with the nature of leaks. She stated that both Edney and I could face “serious legal consequences”, presumably for having a conversation about Omar over a year earlier, long before Edney’s gag order. She said it would “hurt Omar’s cause” if I were to speak of his case, and that I “certainly wasn’t entitled” to know how it could.

This has been a typical reaction from many officially mandated to help Omar’s case. With a few notable exceptions, the advice is for all concerned to sit down, shut up, and let ‘justice’ run its tedious course. Most of our politicians, media and NGO’s have obediently complied for over eleven years.

Omar went on a hunger strike in Guantanamo to protest the lack of progress in his transfer, according to several sources close to him. If he hadn’t, and the US had not continued to pressure Canada, there is no reason to believe he would be in Canada today. He re-hired Edney when he was brought home.

“A right-wing terrorist group”

Most people consider Sun media and the Toronto Star to be the extreme ends of the spectrum of Canadian media coverage on Omar with everyone else falling between. If that were true (and it largely is) a decade long faux debate over Omar’s return is being used to drum the identical very narrow negative message about Omar from every outlet. Even the debate itself is interesting, with outlets from the Sun to state media CBC inferring that media polls are the method we use to decide citizenship rights in Canada.

I have started a spreadsheet charting media coverage of Omar Khadr for the last eleven years. The spreadsheet so far includes all of the Star coverage since the trial week, beginning in October 25, 2010.

I wrote in July 2012: “The ‘trial’ was held with the most widely derided court and procedures since the Salem witch trials and a newly created ‘military commission’ instead of either of the two legitimate US courts (civilian or military), but the word ‘convicted’ occurs uncontested 34 times in 24 articles. The crimes Omar Khadr was charged with include ones which the US calls war crimes. None of the rest of the world, including Canada, recognize the impossible ‘murder in violation of the laws of war’ as a war crime in Khadr’s case or any of the others as war crimes, and they could not be legitimately applied to Khadr’s case anyway since they were invented in 2006 and he was captured in 2002. Nevertheless, the words ‘war crime(s)/criminal’ occur 40 times in 24 articles as factual detail of the case.“

“The highly suspect plea deal which Omar signed after eight years of torture as his only path out of a legal black hole has been rubbed in his face by the Star 40 times, in the words ‘pleaded guilty/admitted/confessed’, presented without qualifiers. Despite there being absolutely no evidence to point to Khadr killing anyone, and a great deal of evidence that shows it would have been impossible for him to throw the grenade, the words ‘murder/killer’ are used against him 50 times, more than two times per article. In 24 articles, the word ‘jihad’ was worked in eight times, ‘al Qaeda’ 25, and ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ (the word terror was not included in the count) 30 times.”

Most other outlets over the years have had a very similar message. While articles like this and reports on Speer’s widow and children are constant, there has not been one mainstream Canadian media article about Omar’s medical condition in over eleven years except a dry mention when it delayed a court hearing. While a random al Qaeda story was mined salaciously by the Star for a remote link with Khadrs, no article was written regarding the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticizing the Canadian government for delaying Omar’s return to Canada and recommending that Canada (presumably including the largest circulation newspaper) raise awareness of the Convention against Torture requirements amongst judges and members of the public.

Sun Media, established in 1996, takes the same message and drums for a variety of extreme and illegal remedies. The appeal it makes to mentally unstable elements of the population cannot be ignored, particularly when it posts the address of Omar’s grandparents and tells its viewers that they may soon be housing ‘the little terrorist Omar Khadr’ as he is constantly referred to by Sun commentators. To say their coverage of Omar over the years has been an attempt to instigate violence is a gross understatement but they continue unchallenged. As of last June, Canada no longer has a   provision against hate speech in our Human Rights Act. The Star as well posted this article (since modified) originally with a picture of Omar’s sister’s door bell with name and apartment number.

Canadian media also makes a point of reporting, and in the case of Sun Media promoting, a group presented as average Canadian citizens against Omar Khadr’s return. Despite this opposition being openly created by the Jewish Defense League who have a “multi faith coalition” with the Hindu Advocacy Group, and the Christian Heritage Party, they are never mentioned by name except by Sun media. Tom Flanagan, former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, traces the roots of the current Conservative Party in power in Canada to the Christian Heritage Party.

The JDL is the Canadian chapter of a US group which is on the FBI terrorist watch list. In 1994, a US member killed 29 Palestinians at prayer, and in 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against at least nine members of the Canadian JDL with regard to an anonymous tip that they were plotting to bomb the Palestine House in Mississauga. They are supporters of the English Defence League and the wannabe Canadian Defence League, which appears to be made up of the same people. On September 11, 2012, community activists gathered at the home of Omar’s family after JDL bikers promised to assemble there and “send a message” to the Khadr family, instigated by Sun media who had earlier published the address. The bikers eventually rode away after they met the crowd at the door.

It is hard to imagine Golden Dawn or neo-Nazis in Europe lobbying against a Muslim man and harassing his family and the media not pointing out that the harassers are members of far right extremist groups, especially in the case of the JDL, classified “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. The Toronto Star pointed out JDL’s terrorist designation recently,  and JDL protested what they called the paper’s “anti-Israeli bias” in 2010, but the Toronto Star consistently reports anti-Khadr protesters without mentioning the affiliation.

Any articles about Khadr in Canadian media are very quickly flooded with negative comments which are voted up. The Harper government is no stranger to astroturfing and manipulation of public perception of the Khadr case has preoccupied this government as shown in the US state cables. Media manipulation is also a primary goal of the JDL.

“You killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

There are real, internationally recognized war crimes in Omar Khadr’s case. Shooting a blinded child twice in the back is one. Torture of a prisoner of war is another, in which Canada was complicit. The investigations into Canada’s actions in this case have been blocked for more than eleven years.

Omar completely lost the sight in one eye in the firefight. He has since come close to losing the vision remaining in the second eye. Faced with his one remaining eye containing shrapnel, the US military chose to shine bright lights into it while interrogating him. Canada simply refused to give him sunglasses for eight years while he sat first in the Cuban sun then in 24 hours a day of fluorescent lighting. The US forced him through a corrupt show trial; Canada has locked him in solitary and refuses to allow him to be interviewed.

There is an apocryphal story in which a US diplomat said to Canada’s former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “You treated your Indians a lot better than we treated ours.”

Trudeau replied, “Yes, you killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

Apocryphal or not, it is hard not to remember in the case of Omar Khadr.

Omar Khadr: War criminal, child soldier… or neither?

 

Previously published on VICE


Frames from Omar Khadr’s interrogation. via Flickr.

Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Bagram to Guantánamo to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.  

If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantanamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.  

Omar’s case is wildly complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing was certainly killed by a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever had or threw one. While Omar certainly did confess to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture and given his option to either insist he’s innocent and stay in Gitmo, or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, it certainly sounds like the terms of his confession were problematic at best.

All of this is important to note, especially in light of the recent Hamdan appeal in the US—which refers to the case of Osama Bin Laden’s former driver whose terrorism charges were thrown out—that pointed out war crimes tried by the Commission must be internationally recognized. This verdict may end up being leveraged effectively in the Omar Khadr case.

The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that our government violated Omar’s rights, but left the remedy up to the Harper government who of course declined to provide any solution.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been making strong statements on the preferred outcome on the day of the trial, in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings. Harper has vowed to fight the case “vigorously,” and used almost the same phrasing as that of Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.

Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, was in court to argue that he should be transferred to a provincialinstitution from a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.

Heather Marsh, a journalist, was at Omar’s trial on Monday and wrote about it for us.


The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing.
 Photo by the author.

On Monday, the court was filled with what seemed to be exclusively supporters of Omar Khadr. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high school student who said she was done for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze up, 120 people were in the court room and a live feed was set up for more in an overflow room.

A security guard told Omar’s counsel that Omar would be available to talk to them in a private interview room outside—but Edney insisted it was an open court and Omar could appear. After a brief altercation he was allowed to be present.

Contrary to earlier media reports depicting him as a “giant,” Omar is an average sized man with a soccer player build and a neatly trimmed beard. When he came home last year he wrote to Seger M., an 11-year old supporter, “I play soccer too, but I don’t think I’m as good as you. I usually play defense or goal keeper.” He looks it, although since he came home he has been almost entirely in solitary confinement instead.


The author discussing the insanity of the crown’s arguments with Omar’s former chief prosecutor from Guantanamo.

Omar wrote to me when he was finally transferred back to Canada last fall, “At least we have a proper legal system,” and he told another correspondent this week that this would be his first appearance in “a real court.” He seemed composed and happy throughout the proceedings, smiling frequently at people. Most of the discussion I overheard during the breaks was regarding his appearance and demeanor, not the legal arguments. Omar and the gallery of supporters seemed equally amazed that they were finally meeting after 11 ½ years of hearing about each other.

During the afternoon, a man interrupted proceedings to rip off his shirt and say “Enough! He was 15,” and object to the endless paper shuffling and statute citing. He was escorted out with no acknowledgement from Omar or the rest of the court room. At the end of the day, after the judge had left and as Omar was being led away there was a spontaneous outburst from the room with people waving and calling “Good job, Omar!” and “Stay strong!”

After the hearing Edney met with media outside and told them Omar’s chances of parole would be much greater in a provincial institution as he would have access to the programs and the society he needs to rehabilitate himself. “If he remains in a federal penitentiary, where he doesn’t get any programs, where he spends most of his life locked away, where his life was threatened, he’ll never get out.”


An Omar Khadr protester in 2009. via WikiCommons.

As long as Omar is in federal prison he will probably be in solitary as necessary protection. As he wrote a friend last February about Millhaven, “My new place is different definitely. People are generally nice, but with a lot of bad habits. Life here compels you to live like an animal because it is like a jungle. I have to change a little to defend myself, but not lose my humanity and who I am.”

In order to be eligible for parole, Omar must prove he can thrive among those our society has deemed most unacceptable. During his trial the point was repeatedly made that he could not be released as he had been supposedly “marinated in jihad” as an inmate of Guantanamo and Bagram during his formative years. The catch-22 continues.

Canada famously violated Omar Khadr’s rights by interrogating him for the US when they knew he had been subjected to three weeks of severe sleep deprivation torture and other ‘softening up techniques’ prior to questioning. They also refused for eight years to provide even a pair of glasses to preserve the vision remaining in his one good eye or to provide any education for him to rehabilitate himself. After receiving no formal education past elementary school, he recently passed Ontario’s Grade 10 high school equivalency exams with more than 90 percent in all subjects, English, math, history, geography and science.

Solitary confinement is widely recognized as torture, and many years of studies have shown the permanent damage that can result. After over 11 years of almost entirely solitary, Omar appears to be one of the exceptions. He can even find benefit in the deprivation of experience, education and companionship. In April he wrote to Aaf Post in the Netherlands, “Usually we don’t appreciate the small things. We take them for granted. Once you lose these things like opening your window in the morning and taking a breath of fresh air or seeing a bird chirping, you really appreciate these things. Even though I’m in prison there are still a lot of small beautiful things around us. Seeing the sun rise or set or to see the snow fall.”

“Being back in Canada is, as you said, a wonderful thing. As big or difficult as change may be, it’s worth it. There are too many good things in this life (as hard as it might be) to worry or even care about the bad things. Things are what we make out of them. Prison can be a deprivation of freedom, or a time to enlighten ourselves. For me it is the latter.”

 

The author would like to thank the Free Omar Khadr group for research assistance. 

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

2011-11-23 Omar Khadr Part 4 of 4: “Punitive post-conviction confinement”

Image

This article is in lieu of the long delayed fourth part of the Omar Khadr series written on WL Central last May. The original fourth part consisted of hours of interviews regarding the astoundingly corrupt and illegal military process which culminated in a verdict which allows the Canadian press to refer to Omar Khadr as a ‘convicted terrorist’. One day the information in those interviews will be widely known, but today we are still prevented from publishing any of it for fear of retribution to those we do not wish to harm.

Today, Omar should be at home in Canada, as promised by the Canadian government as a term of his acceptance of a plea deal. Today, he is still in Guantanamo Bay serving what the US military terms “punitive post-conviction confinement.”. A little known fact regarding the Guantanamo sentences is that time served before sentencing is not considered ‘punitive’ and therefore does not count as time served towards his sentence. Omar’s sentence is to be carried out in a solitary confinement ‘enhanced interrogation’ environment, and at the end of his sentence he can be placed back in ‘Prisoner Of War’ status in the Guantanamo cells he has spent his life in since he was 15 years old. Without repatriation to Canada, his eight year plea deal is just an eight year sentence to solitary confinement in the middle of a lifetime sentence in Guantanamo.

Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg writes, But Bahlul and Qosi, Khadr and Noor are segregated because they are “serving punitive sentences,” says Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Guantánamo spokeswoman. Under the 1949 Third Geneva Conventions, she said, the other captives are “detained under the Law of War only as a security measure” and “should not be subjected to a penal environment or comingled with prisoners punitively incarcerated as a consequence of a criminal conviction.” Once their sentences are over, under Pentagon doctrine, they become ordinary detainees again — put back with the others in a penitentiary away called Camp 6, the closest thing at Guantánamo today to POW-style barracks housing.

I spoke last summer to Omar’s former defense attorney Dennis Edney about his current condition. “Omar is doing his post sentencing time back in Camp 5 which as the Pentagon states is “designed for enhanced interrogation techniques”. He is back in solitary confinement where he has spent so much of his life. Prior to trial, we were able to have him removed to the cages where he was able to socialize with others which made him happy. He is not happy and has been subject to interrogations by the FBI.”

In this isolated and unsupported environment, “He is never allowed mail from other than family which rarely arrives.” As part of his ‘plea deal’ he is not allowed to have legal counsel present during his interrogations.

Thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Harper’s appeals, all levels of court in Canada have agreed, in 2008 and again in 2010, that the Canadian government has violated Omar’s rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by interrogating him at the Guantanamo Bay facility in 2003 and 2004 and by sharing information from those interviews with U.S. authorities despite knowing that in 2004 U.S. authorities had subjected him to illegal interrogation methods, including sleep deprivation. It further found that his status as a minor, his detention without counsel, and his interrogators’ awareness that he had been subjected to sleep deprivation were“not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Omar was sentenced in October of last year. In a diplomatic exchange with the United States which formed part of Omar’s plea deal, the Canadian government wrote “The Government of Canada therefore wishes to convey that, as requested by the United States, the Government of Canada is inclined to favourably consider Mr. Khadr’s application to be transferred to Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence, or such portion of the remainder of his sentence as the National Parole Board determines” after his first year of post-trial incarceration.

Omar’s defense counsel filed the paperwork for his return in October. Now we are told:Corrections officials have received the request for transfer and now have to determine if Khadr is eligible to return to Canada to finish out his sentence. Once Canadian officials determine that, they send an official request to American officials. If U.S. officials agree, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has the final say. He has the option of refusing the transfer if he decides Khadr is a risk to public safety. The process is expected to take about 18 months. A spokesman for Toews said he doesn’t comment on individual cases.

In addition to this, the United States now must certify Canada as a fit place to send a convicted terrorist, a nation not likely to permit him to attack the United States, and one that has control of its prisons. That certification must be delivered to Congress signed by U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta with “the concurrence of” U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton.

It is well documented in the US State cables released by Wikileaks that Canadian indifference and hostility have had everything to do with the torture and unlawful confinement of a child and the continuing suffering of the only western citizen left in Guantanamo Bay. “There would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chooses to pursue an appeal, making this a strong likelihood.” reports one cable.

December 10 is World Human Rights Day, the day the world celebrates the 63rd birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written first by Canadian John Humphrey. If Canadians are ever again to hold their heads up on this day, we must remove this human rights blight from our actions by finally repatriating the man we have victimized since he was a child.

WL Central calls for immediate action to defend the rights of this Canadian citizen.

Previous WL Central coverage on Omar Khadr here.

Omar Khadr Part 1 of 4: “Omar Khadr is a lovely young man”
Omar Khadr Part 2 of 4: Canada, the entire world is still watching
Omar Khadr Part 3 of 4: “The world doesn’t get it”

 

2011-06-06 Omar Deghayes on Omar Khadr

Image

Omar Deghayes is a UK citizen who was imprisoned in Guantánamo in January 2002 and freed from there on December 18, 2007. Details of his treatment in Guantánamo can be read here. He speaks to PressTV about his experiences here.

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was captured at fifteen after the compound he was living in in Afghanistan was bombed by US military. He was tortured at Bagram prison and Guantánamo, and has spent the last nine years of his life imprisoned by the US. WL Central coverage on Omar Khadr is here.

Omar Deghayes spoke to WL Central on June 5. The following is an excerpt from that interview.

Did you have any contact with Omar Khadr?

OD: Yes definitely. I know him very well. He was locked up in Camp 5 for a long time, and I saw him in the other camp also before for a short period of time. But in Camp 5 I was locked up with him for a long time.

Do you think that Omar Khadr would be a threat to society if and when he is released to Canada?

OD: No. Definitely not. Even the guard and the interrogators in Guantanamo I think used to like him a lot … for his personality. He is an open, kind person. I don’t think he would be a threat to society. No.

What do you think the effects of nine years of being detained at Guantanamo and in other places, including black sites, starting at age fifteen would have on someone like Omar?

OD: Definitely gross destruction to his psychology and personality as a child.

He was a child when he was brought. I remember him when he was brought first to the prisons. And I saw him afterwards in Camp 5 where he had grown in prison, and where he started to have a beard and a moustache. Before he didn’t.

To grow inside prison, and inside very abnormal circumstances like those, where people threaten, physically beaten, sometimes … He was very ill, because I think he had lots of injuries and wounds. And he wasn’t treated for those wounds … and they were used against him by interrogators and doctors.

And to grow in an environment like that … I am sure it will have a devastating effect on him in the future.

I remember him receiving letters from his family. Some of them…you were able to see that some of them were censored. And even the letters were even more disturbing for him … because I think some of his family were describing problems that they were facing outside in Canada.

I remember talking to him about some of those … a few times in the showers. They were very very disturbing … imagine a child growing up with adult men in a lock up like that.

Even he is not on the same level of … you do not find the same level of companionship … it must be very difficult for him. I am sure it will have lasting effect on him.

The whole condition … isolation. Even because of his age, he wasn’t spared the isolation and lock ups. I mean they treated him like just another … like anyone else. Even … if not worse sometimes.

So, I think it must be very devastating for somebody at a tender young age like his. If other people like myself and other men … more grown ups … we might have had some experience in life … and we might have been able to cope and be patient with some things … and try to make sense of things. For a child of his age … I think it must be very destructive.

Do you have a sense of what kind of support Omar would need if he were to be released?

OD: I am sure he would need support. Yes.

Like something like what I had. We had family to understand…and family contacts … and then we had lots of friends who were here working, who were very sympathetic to conditions…and we were always surrounded by those friends…and they tried to help and sometimes explain … even in normal things in life.

Like we needed some help in going to medical assistance, and they might have be able to contact people or they knew other friends that might help … and things like that.

Even normal things like that … and try to adjust to normal life again.

He will definitely need lots of help from people. Maybe even medical doctors. Family and friends and sympathetic society.

If society … I don’t know how things are in Canada. If they are hostile … it might just cause more damage and more resentment and fear and he would lock himself inside in isolation…like I have seen with other people who have sensed that society are hostile against them.

But I think with freedom and family support I am sure … he is a very intelligent young boy … young man.

And I think he is a very sociable, and very talented, and very intelligent.

I think if he was to be free, I think he would make a good future I am sure, and turn his experiences into positive experience.

I told him when he gets released … I asked him to contact me that I can help him with marriage, or something like that. Cause I know his father died when he was in prison, and it must have affected him.

The Canadian government, under the last three prime ministers, two Liberal and one Conservative, have done nothing about the plight of a tortured fifteen year old Canadian boy imprisoned with no trial in the world’s most notorious torture camps. They have contributed nothing to his education, nor to his emotional or psychological welfare. They have expressed no concern for his well being. They have not requested his repatriation, nor have they requested that the illegal and amoral conditions of his confinement be improved. They have fought against co-operating with or helping him at all levels of Canada’s judicial system, in both 2008 and 2010, and both years the Canadian government was found, in every court, to have violated Omar Khadr’s rights as a Canadian citizen. The Federal Court of Canada has also ruled that the activities of the Canadian government in this case constituted a breach of the UN Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.

Omar Khadr signed a plea bargain last fall that would see him home to Canada in November 2011, if the Canadian government upholds its promise to him. Recently, the Canadian High Commission refused board on an Air Canada direct flight to internationally acclaimed human rights activist Moazzem Begg. Begg was invited by Omar Khadr’s defense lawyer to speak in Canada about Islamophobia, Guantanamo, and, of course, his former cell mate Omar Khadr.

2011-05-29 Prism Magazine: Livestream discussion on the Canadian and American “No-Fly Lists”

Image

Prism Magazine, founded by Maher Arar, will be broadcasting a livestream discussion on Sunday May 29 at 10:00am EST. Jeff Sallot, an instructor of Journalism at Carleton University and former Globe and Mail Bureau Chief, will host a discussion on the Canadian and American “No-Fly Lists” and their impact on civil liberties. Confirmed guests are Roch Tassé, Ben Wizner and Moazzam Begg.

Moazzam Begg was refused board on a direct Air Canada flight from London to Toronto last week, preventing him from speaking at a Conference on Islamophobia and The Politics of Fear at the Islamic Society of York Region, Toronto Canada, on May 21, as well as two other speaking engagements in Canada.

The livestream will be available at both the following sites:

http://www.livestream.com/prismmagazine

and

http://www.prism-magazine.com/prism-tv/

Infographic credit: JESS3.

2011-05-24 Dennis Edney, Lawyer For Omar Khadr speaks on Fear, Injustice and his Guantanamo visits

“The only crime in my view, equal to willful inhumanity is the crime of indifference, silence and forgetting.”

Dennis Edney, Lawyer For Omar Khadr speaks on Fear, Injustice and his Guantanamo visits in a Conference on Islamophobia and The Politics of Fear at Islamic Society of York Region, Toronto Canada, May 21, 2011. This is the conference that Moazzam Begg was  deniedpermission to board a direct Air Canada flight from London to Toronto to speak at “because of US policy” and the extremely unlikely possibility that the flight may be diverted into US air space.

The following are transcribed excerpts from Dennis Edney’s speech.

What we are witnessing is the constant drip of sanity slipping from our grasp as our apathy has allowed whispers of anti-Muslim sentiment to become part of the mainstream on conversation.

On Guantanamo protecting us: We want to protect ourselves from the voice of people like Moazzam Begg.

And we’re just simply to accept that the government knows what’s best for us. And should be left to get on with the job. That’s the same language we use here in Canada. It’s the same language I meet every day when I fight my way up to get disclosure. I’m not entitled to get disclosure because I and the Canadian public, you know, we just can’t be trusted with secret information. So I have to go in a secret court, and fight in a secret court. And then what do I find. I find that the information isn’t that secret after all. It covers up egregious misconduct by our government.

And you are not allowed, when you are in Guantanamo Bay, to mention Camp 7 or ask any questions. Because the prisoners in Camp 7, they’re just nobody. They were brought over last year, from some of the prisons in Europe and other countries. And I remember saying to a lieutenant colonel, who is the head of all the lawyers and military lawyers for the eastern seaboard. I said “How do you get lawyers for these guys in Camp 7?” He said “Forget it, Mr. Edney. They’re toast.” And all the rest of these well educated, Harvard educated lawyers all nodded their heads in approval. So one can only imagine what goes on in Camp 7.

On visiting Unit C in Camp 5: Unit C is 32 single cells. And each one of those detainees who had been chosen to be a hunger striker was moved into these solitary cells. And that was over five years ago. And no one ever asked these detainees, as rotations changed, as military personnel moved on, knocked on the door of these cells and said to any one of the detainees “Do you still wish to be a hunger striker?” Assuming they ever were in the first place. No one asked that question. And in the review of the documents there was nothing to determine what criteria was being used to determine whether someone was a hunger striker or whether he was simply on a fast.

But outside of each cell is a restraining chair, or what I call a feeding chair. So those individuals are now into their sixth year in Guantanamo in these solitary cells because they were deemed to be on a hunger strike. But the story gets better. Because outside each cell is a feeding chair, and three times a day they are force fed, they are strapped into those chairs by the feet, by the waist, by the neck, put into these chairs with tubes inserted into their nose, and force fed. Three times a day. And after that they are left sitting in the chair for hours. And amongst those is my friend Mohammed.

He describes a Yemeni prisoner who was fed with an extra large feeding tube (causing permanent damage to his nose and throat) and deliberately left in his chair until he urinated and defecated on himself. Mohammed was down to 100 pounds and less. The federal court judge’s response to Edney regarding this treatment was that the court could not touch that, it was up to the correctional facility.

Omar Khadr has problems with arthritis in his knees. So they sit him on a stool so he has to bend his knees. “Anything that makes you uncomfortable, Guantanamo Bay will come up with it. … They keep the place freezing.” Omar Khadr “reminded me of a broken little bird. … When I see Omar on July 3, he will be on a chair. Things have become much more humanitarian at Guantanamo, he gets a chair. And he is always, always chained from the waist to the floor. I have never seen him walk other than the few occasions that we’ve been in court. In all those years, I have never seen him walk.” He has fought for close to eight years to get a pair of protective glasses to preserve the amount of sight remaining in Omar’s one eye with vision. He received them in November of last year. That is the extent of the help Omar has received from the Canadian government, they can’t even get him a pair of glasses.

I have never met anyone like Omar. Who I believe can give so much to the world, but has been so abandoned by so many that should know better. And all the times I’ve been with him I have never heard him say an angry word about anyone. … What he is, is he is a good man.

2011-05-23 UPDATE: Omar Khadr Supreme Court review denied, request for clemency still to be heard #cdnpoli

Updated information from Khadr’s legal counsel states that the Supreme Court dismissalthis morning related to a years old appeal from Khadr that was actually disallowed last fall by the terms of his plea deal, which ordered “he must dismiss all presently pending action.”

“As part of his pre-trial agreement, he had to dismiss his claim against the government,” said his US military defense attorney Lt.-Col. Jackson. “Once the claim was dismissed, and the government accepted the dismissal, they still keep the caption (or heading) of the case as Khadr vs. Obama (as a way to keep the process) consistent, but he’s no longer a plaintiff on that.” Khadr’s request for review was bundled with several other requests from other Guantanamo prisoners.

The request for clemency still stands and may be heard this week.


The US Supreme Court denied Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr’s request for clemencytoday. While a majority voted against granting the petition, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor “indicated that they wanted to review the case.” Courthouse Newsopines “Monday’s contribution affirms the appearance that the court will defer to the mostly conservative D.C. Circuit on Guantanamo detention matters. The justices have not decided a detainee case in nearly three years.”

Omar is currently serving the first year of eight further years he was sentenced to, in Guantanamo Bay, in what the pentagon terms “punitive post-conviction confinement.” He had already served eight years, including solitary confinement and torture, in two of the world’s most notorious torture camps at the time of his trial. He was captured at fifteen, and he is now 24 years old. He agreed to a plea deal last fall which sentenced him to eight years for killing a US Special Forces soldier, after one of the most highly controversial and dubioustrials in recent history.

His defense attorney Dennis Edney told WL Central, “Omar is doing his post sentencing time back in Camp 5 which, as the Pentagon states, is ‘designed for enhanced interrogation techniques’. He is back in solitary confinement where he has spent so much of his life. Prior to trial, we were able to have him removed to the cages where he was able to socialize with others which made him happy. He is not happy and has been subject to interrogations by the FBI. He is never allowed mail from other than family which rarely arrives.”

“Punitive post-conviction confinement” is described by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald. Bahlul and Qosi, Khadr and Noor are segregated because they are “serving punitive sentences,” says Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Guantánamo spokeswoman. Under the 1949 Third Geneva Conventions, she said, the other captives are “detained under the Law of War only as a security measure” and “should not be subjected to a penal environment or comingled with prisoners punitively incarcerated as a consequence of a criminal conviction.” Once their sentences are over, under Pentagon doctrine, they become ordinary detainees again — put back with the others in a penitentiary away called Camp 6, the closest thing at Guantánamo today to POW-style barracks housing.”

According to the rationale above, what Omar has endured since he was fifteen years old was not punitive, and now that he is sentenced, he needs to be punished. Thanks to endless court appeals by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, all levels of court in Canada have now agreed, in 2008 and again in 2010, that the Canadian government has violated Omar’s rights under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They further found that his treatment was “not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” His sentencing has been condemned by the United Nations Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, by Amnesty, UNICEF, and Lawyers Rights Watch Canada as well as numerous other NGO’s and countries, but not by Canada, the country he was born in and is a citizen of.