I do not remember where I heard that Omar Khadr had been captured. I doubt it was from the news, I was far too busy at that time to watch the news. It was just a piece of tribal knowledge that appeared somewhere, a new reality all Canadians woke up to one day. I don’t remember where I heard about Omar, but I do remember how it felt. It felt like a hand suddenly gripped my heart and for nearly 13 years I have never breathed as freely as I did before. Every day since this new knowledge arrived, there is a cloud that appears before I open my eyes and a part of my mind that knows, no matter what happens, Omar is still being abused and I am still complicit. This is what it has felt like to be a Canadian since the summer of 2002.
It is not that I ever had any illusions about the Canadian government being perfect. I was raised in one of the most isolated spots of Canada’s north, in a community destroyed by Canadian residential schools and Canada’s educational, religious and policing policies in indigenous communities. To leave my home, as so many felt they needed to, women and girls had to travel Highway 16, the Highway of Tears described by Human Rights Watch when they accused Canada of abusive policing and neglect in the region. My family has been hit repeatedly by the Canadian government’s human rights shortcomings, from the uninvestigated and rarely mentioned missing and murdered indigenous women, one every twelve days in Canada, to the resource corporations that use people as cheap and disposable machinery. I know that the Canadian government experimented on women with postpartum depression and others in partnership with the CIA, I know Canadian resource corporations are responsible for human rights disasters globally. I know, I know, I know. I have always known.
But it was Omar who changed the way I thought about us as Canadian people.
Omar’s lawyer and friend Dennis Edney has said of Omar that never has anyone been so abandoned by so many that should know better. I agree. From my experience, Canadians do feel guilt and strong concern about Canada’s role in human rights abuses, at least the ones close to home. The idea of human rights has always been an integral part of Canadian culture and Canada was always in the thick of anything to do with international peace treaties and international law. Canadian John Peters Humphrey wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson defined UN peacekeeping. Two years before Omar was captured, Canada was the first country to sign the UN treaty to protect child soldiers. We know better. And I have never seen us abandon anyone as much as we did Omar.
Watching Canada ignore Omar for almost thirteen years has felt like living in The Truman Show. It has seemed impossible to get a reaction from people about the torture of a child. Well, we aren’t certain, people said through endless years of proof they refused to read, or Well, they did … as if this one Canadian child was somehow not us. In 2010, when I first got access to the US state cables leak from Chelsea Manning, Omar’s name was the first I searched. The cables showed diplomats congratulating themselves that “competing joys of the all-too-brief Canadian summer essentially have kept any genuine pressure off the government”. I had never before seen this dark side of Canadian apathy, the ability to say, It’s just war stuff, about the torture of a child.
“Oh, come on,” long time journalists on the case told me when I objected to their lies about Omar’s case. “Everyone says this,” as if the actions of a mob remove individual responsibility for the truth. “We are presenting a balanced view,” responded others, as though the duty of journalism lies in some popular grey area between truth and lies. “You are hurting your cause,” said many in power, telling me outright that they would write worse things about Omar and ignore him even longer if I complained of lies and inaction. NGOs talked about ‘proper channels’, officials talked about ‘those mandated’, and politicians talked about ‘due process’ as Canadian passive aggressive complicity dragged on and on and on. Canada’s brilliant legal voices, Dennis Edney, Nate Whitling, Gail Davidson, Audrey Macklin and others both in Canada and internationally, kept a continual stream of factual analysis available, but it could not reach as far as the fear-inducing libel from the government and press. Omar’s case is headed to the Canadian Supreme Court for the third time. Combined with a years-long stream of hearings in lower courts, this creates a string of legal victories and state persecution surely unprecedented for one person’s case, but all the legal decisions in his favour never changed his reality.
Years of complacent apathy dragged by, each day an unimaginable hell for this abandoned child. Year after year, we were told to let justice take its course, to sit down, shut up, and trust in the system. Year after year it became harder to breathe, to continue daily life in this charade. Finally we learned that not only was Omar not returning, he would be tried in a show trial with charges of crimes that didn’t exist, a step that had been considered too illegal to be conceivable even by most of us who had been watching this horror unfold since the beginning. And still we were told to sit down and shut up and submit to illegal process and those mandated by themselves. In exchange for the show trial, Omar was supposed to be returned to Canada the following year, but it was no surprise when he was not. And still we were told to sit down and shut up or we would ‘hurt his cause’.
After years of futile comments and articles and forum postings, I began to grow bigger platforms. Wikileaks, Anonymous, Occupy, and many other online collectives gave me volume to talk about this child. I would use my Twitter accounts to tweet all day about western men hackers to gain followers and then spend them all with unexpected tweet storms about Omar. I brought him into every interview humanly possible, no matter what the topic. During all the global events, the genocides, wars and horrific disasters that I covered, I would still ask my networks to amplify Omar as well. And people around the world were endlessly patient and understanding. Gazans under constant attack, Syrians living in horrific war, and Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya people all amplified Omar’s case as did others around the world. Guantanamo activists globally propped each other up in one of the most frustrating and endless human rights campaigns of our time. The tireless and uncomplaining support of global activists acted as water on stone.
Slowly, gradually, the tide of human compassion in Canada that had receded so far, for so many years, began to return. More and more people began to unravel the facts of Omar’s case and correct each other online. Eventually, people would amplify instead of unfollow me when I talked about his case. A global audience was forming which had no difficulty believing what was done to Omar, and Canadians could no longer avoid being asked about him. The people who had always spoke about him began to find more interest and more informed listeners. When Omar returned to Canada on September 29, 2012, it was as if he finally became real for many Canadians. The government propaganda against him escalated sharply, but so did the backlash from an increasingly informed audience. Finally, Canadians were not just interested, they cared and were starting to fight back.
On May 5, Omar Khadr will almost surely walk free. Dennis Edney will fulfill his long ago promise of taking Omar to the beautiful Alberta wilderness and the Edney family will welcome him to their home. The hand that has been choking my heart for 13 years has finally let go, the giant black weight of guilt that appears every morning is lifting. The entire country can breathe more easily and walk more freely because of Omar’s lawyers, Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling, and because of Omar’s own extraordinary resilience and good-heartedness. They have saved us from the consequences of what we have done. Omar will be a happy, strong, free and capable man, we have been spared the guilt of seeing him with a life destroyed.
A question many have asked: with all the human souls needing help right now, why have I devoted so much of my time and energy to Omar who is only one man? It is because, as Dennis said, he was abandoned by so many and because he was only one. Omar is not a member of any political group except the Canadian nation and he was a child, by himself. The experience of pain does not increase with more people experiencing it. One tortured life is as horrific as a million tortured lives, one death is as final and devastating as a million deaths. No life is a statistic, no life is collateral damage or acceptable risk.
All removal of human rights begins with their removal from one person. The actions taken against this one child changed Canada from a nation that did not torture children to one which does, from a nation which upheld international law to one which does not. As every pain and death is an individual experience, so is guilt. Each one of us bears individual responsibility for our actions and inactions of the past almost thirteen years. This is a stain that will not wash away. Collectively and individually, we can never forget the guilt which we now carry. The same voices which have insisted that we follow blind patriotism and trust in the state have taught us that our human response of guilt is a wasted emotion. It is not. It is guilt and empathy that keep us from becoming a nation of sociopaths, that tell us to protect each other from abuses we would not wish to suffer ourselves. It is guilt and empathy that create a nation and bring us together as humanity.
May we use our collective guilt to become much more protective of all of our rights and legal processes in the future.
With grateful thanks to all of those who have taken a moment from their own struggles to speak for Omar. There is no official body or person who will uphold our rights, there is only us.
Glen: Good evening. Welcome to The View Up Here. I am your host, Canadian Glen and it is January 14, 2015.
Tonight we have the long promised show about the case of Omar Khadr. My guest tonight is a globally recognized expert in this case. Heather Marsh, @GeorgieBC on Twitter, will be joining us. Canada’s history in torture goes back a lot further than most people think but we’re going to talk about tonight what’s happened since 9/11 because that’s where it really went off the rails and Omar continues to be embroiled in that all this time later. So that’s the topic for tonight. 21st century torture and Omar Khadr with Heather Marsh. Thanks for joining us on The View Up Here.
Good evening everyone. The case of Omar Khadr is something that has never happened before in Canada and it has the potential to change quite a few things as far as the Canadian legal system goes but most of these changes wouldn’t be up for discussion if it wasn’t for the behaviour of Canadian governments since 2011. Right after the attacks of September 11th, while the United States was readying the Patriot Act, countries, especially in NATO, did their best to do the same. Canada was no exception. The law here was pretty much universally known as anti-terror legislation. How specific.
But back then it was a Liberal government. Chretien was the Prime Minister and at that time the Deputy Prime Minister was John Manley. It was only 14 years ago but there was a little bit of truth in the way politicians spoke then because John Manley said, from the Canadian point of view the primary objective was economic for bringing in ths legislation. Canada had to be seen by the Americans as doing it’s share in the war on terror to keep the trade flowing. That’s always good motivation for snatching people off streets and throwing them in prisons with no charges. “Well, we need the business.” That came from the Chretien government.
There was a member of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Gar Pardy. He was the head of the consular division so he was involved in all these cases of extraordinary rendition under false pretences and the RCMP were the people on the ground. He’s not too impressed with the way the RCMP conducted themselves. We had inexperienced and, up to a point, inept people dealing with a subject matter they knew nothing about, with absolutely no supervision at a level that should have been taking place. Then when one by one, these Canadian citizens were freed and allowed to return to Canada, then CSIS stepped in and kept the false stories circulating in the Canadian media that these men were somehow guilty even though they were cleared. Never admit a mistake. True cover your ass behaviour. But it goes well beyond that. CSIS gets their direction from somewhere. The Prime Minister. Chretien. Deputy Prime Minister Manley. Justice Minister and then later Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan. Solicitor General Wayne Easter. They got nothing to say, no, nothing here, sorry. So that’s when it started.
There was a lot of talk in October 2001. There were articles out already rejecing this ‘anti-terror’ legislation. This is a little article from October 2001 by Steven Gowans. “Take Canada’s Justice Minister and the government’s point person on ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation. A civil libertarian who sat on the board of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, McLellan is now fashioning legislation that will trample on your civil liberties and mine and will get people who ae not terrorists thrown into jail on terrorism charges.” Funny how things change.
And of course they set up an ‘anti-terrorism’ cabinet committee. John Manley was then Foreign Affairs Minister. Keep the wagons circled, boys. When he was asked if he thought these laws were reaching too far, if it could snag innocent people, Manley’s response was “I’m afraid we’ll miss someone. I’m not afraid we’ll name someone who’s innocent.” Doesn’t that fit the time after the attacks. Everyone’s guilty! Everyone!
There were reports already coming out of Afghanistan at that time that this is only going to make it worse. You go over there and start torturing people, they’re going to want to strike back. So that’s what they’ve done. What Steven Gowans says here is: How about detaining suspected terrorists witout charge. When Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act to deal with an apprehended insurrection, that turned out to be no insurrection at all, police rounded up all kinds of people when they knew they had absolutely nothing to do with the kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross but they weren’t gong to let an opportunity go by. Any of those people from Trudeau’s cabinet that is still around now admits they made a mistake. Now governments like Chretien and Harper want to do it globally, not just here. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Most of these Canadian men that were arrested, were arrested outside Canada on tips from the Canadian government from CSIS. That’s why they were arrested, yet they all go free in the end. Nice.
That’s the background, there’s more if we need it. Right now I want to welcome to the air, our guest for tonight, Heather Marsh. Good evening, Heather.
Heather: Hey Glen, how are you?
Glen: Very good, very nice to have you on the show. I gave a little bit of background, but I know you want to get to the subject at hand.
Heather: I liked that you brought the media’s role into that too, because that is one of my favourite aspects of Canada and our legal system being undermined. But yes, the topic at hand, being Omar.
Glen: Yes. Where would you like to start? Would you like to start where it all began? How he got captured?
Heather: Sure. Do you think most people know who Omar is?
Glen: Well I wouldn’t say most but I would say more all the time.
Heather: Ok. Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old. He was in Bagram for 3 months, in Guantanamo for 10 years; he’s been in Canada for 2 years. The entire case illustrates everything that is rotten with the Canadian legal system and media and everything that has gone wrong in the last 12 years. One man illustrates everywhere we went wrong.
So Omar right now is in a prison in Edmonton – Bowden.The crucial problem at the moment, besides the fact that he has no business being in prison anywhere and he should have been released 12 years ago, but besides that, he was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan and he lost the sight in his left eye. His right eye has had shrapnel in it tor the last 12 1/2 years, and he is now losing the vision in his right eye as well. A huge part of this is because he has had no medical care for the last 12 1/2 years and he is waiting to apply for his parole and he can’t apply unless he completes his education and proves he can be a contributing member of society but without any eyesight, he can’t continue his studies. This is one of the most urgent things with Omar now, besides getting him out of prison, is getting him properly taken care of by the Canadian prison system. He was blinded not only by the shrapnel hitting his eye 12 1/2 years ago, but when he was in Bagram and and when he was in Guantanamo, the U.S. military shone bright lights into his eyes while interrogating him as torture. Canadians in their passive-aggressive method of the same thing refused to buy or allow him sunglasses when he was in Guantanamo until almost the time he left. Both of these countries, not only did they not give him the proper medical treatment to deal with his eyes, but they both tortured him in their own U.S. aggressive and Canada passive-aggressive ways to contribute to his eyesight failing like that.
Just last year in March, was the first time he received medical care for his shoulder after 12 1/2 years of Canadian/U.S. responsibility to have his medical care and again his shoulder – he was shot twice in the back lying prone on his stomach, shot in the back from point blank range and he had huge holes blown out of his back. But that wasn’t the only problem. The problem was the lack of medical care for 12 1/2 years and the torture he had during the time he was at Bagram and Guantanamo. He had his hands tied above his head to the door frame or chained to the ceiling for hours at at a time. They often made him do manual labour just to aggravate his wounds and his shoulder so plus no medical care until this year in March. He had an infection from the time he was 15 until right now which is 28 years old. They had to scrape away flesh and bone that had been deteriorating all that time.
Righ now we have, Omar Khadr is in Bowden prison. He has been in prison since he was 15 years old, there has never been a proper trial; there have never been proper charges; there has never been any semblance of a legal process for keeping him in prison, and he has not received proper medical care; he has not received education; he’s received no rehabilitation, no help to become a contributing member of society. He’s supposed to go up before a parole board but everything he has done to ready himself to be a contributing Canadian has been a fight entirely by himself and his legal team, while Canada and the US have put every obstacle in his path to keep him from ever becoming a contributing member. You can’t be educated if you don’t have your eyesight. He has no other tools to be educated. He’s not allowed on the internet; he’s not allowed access to any online material.
The most ridiculous thing – if you are familiar at all with the Canadian prison system, everything is a security hazard. His eyesight responds better to light on dark, so if you write to him with a silver pen on black paper, that is not regulation and will be sent back. That is where we are at right now with Omar.
For those who are not familiar with the case, there is a website where you can look up anything that is going on with Omar right now. It’s called freeomar.ca and it has all the latest news, all the background and all the legal resources, so anything we talk about for the next 2 hours you can find iit on the site or ask me on twitter @GeorgieBC and I will find you any documentation to back up or what reference material I was using for anything I was saying for the next 2 hours. It’s freeomar.ca so go there or find me. But there is a letter on our site from Gail Davidson from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada that gives the legal basis for everything Canada is not doing for Omar medically right at the moment.
Glen: One thing I wanted to mention about the website, it is better than any other source on this case.
Heather: Thank you very much.
Glen: This is one occasion where your website makes Wikipedia look like a joke and the wiki on Omar is not small. It is the site and not only is there the history and the precedents that you are trying to establish and pictures of Omar and letters of support, links to other things that are related, but it’s also just a gathering spot.
Heather: That site is the product of one of the best teams I have ever worked with. Anyone who knows me knows that I have my fingers in a lot of different pies but that particular team I have worked with for years and they are some of the best people I have ever worked with, each one of them is an absolute encyclopedia on Omar’s case and we sort of act as an epistemic community. Anybody who wants to help Omar, any journalist who wants to write about him, ask us and we’ll find you anything you need to know about him; we’ll find you any document you need to get the information you need on it.
Glen: In my opinion, if someone just happened upon this site, didn’t know anything, if they saw the the openness and the willingness of the Omar Khadr suport network, compared to what the government’s doing, I think that would be a pretty good indication of who’s on the level and who’s not right there. It’s obvious.
Heather: It’s funny – maybe its something about Canada’s trust in our own government and our own institutions, but my partner in that website since the beginning – many people have been added since, but the force behind that website is a woman from Holland named Aaf Post. You can find her on twitter @AafPost as well as the Omar #Khadr hashtag. You’ll find her everywhere, she has worked for Omar every single day for years and years and she is in Holland. She has put together the Canadian team more than anybody.
Glen: Well that just shows you what’s capable in this day and age with the technology and it also shows you the appeal of this injustice.
Heather: You see it everywhere, if you are a Canadian and you travel, Omar Khadr is a well well known case. This is a human rights disaster that is well known around the world. I think he might be more recognised outside of Canada than he is in, in many states.
Glen: I would agree with that. And I also think he may be more well known than our Prime Minister.
Heather: His story will outlast Stephen Harper’s too, sadly. His story will be part of Canadian history forever to our very great detriment.
Glen: Yeah, it’s one of those events that is not supposed to happen. But the thing that gets me is it continues to happen. And it doesn’t have to.
Heather: Exactly. Thirteenth year. One of the things, whatever else we do or don’t get to talk about today, one of the things I did want to get to, because this has been 13 years – layers and layers of propaganda, lies, misinformation from all parties. Canadians have been just snowed under with misinformation and it’s very difficult to get the answers to anything because there are so many different answers and conflicting testimonies. In 2004 we thought this, in 2006 we found out that, and practically everything we know about Omar’s case we know because of leaks or fighting all the way up to the Supreme Court over and over and over again to try and get any of the information that he was entitled to about himself and his case. So one of the things that I did want to get to today – boring as everything but kind of needed to discuss Omar’s case or how Canada has reacted – is to go over what happened on the day he was captured and what exactly he was charged with and why it is a complete farce. If that’s ok?
Glen: Oh yeah, for sure.
Heather: Ok, So every media report in Canada for the past 12 1/2 years, right at the top, there is a sentence where they define Omar Khadr in a few words, right? If you go to Sun Media, that’s “Killer Khadr”. If you go to the ever so polite Toronto Star, they say “convicted war criminal Omar Khadr who pleaded guilty to 5 war crimes including murder”. One sounds way more civilized but is actually even more wrong. They are both absolutely absolutely completely untrue. I would love to live in a country where media cannot get away with such complete, utter, bald faced lies, because that is what those are. Sue me, go ahead, those are lies and I wish we had some way to go after them about it, because every single article about Omar has this defining – these words which define him and there is no truth in any of that.
So, what did happen? He is not a convicted war criminal; he did not plead guilty; there were not five war crimes, and murder was not one of them, so whenever you see any of those words, somebody is lying to you.
So what happened that day is, Omar was 15 in Afghanistan – a family aquaintance – there is some disagreement around this area but the most reputable sources I know say that Omar’s dad said he could go with Person A who told him to go with Person B, and Person B took him into a compound where he should not have been. Whatever the case, whatever the truth of the story, Omar was 15, he was in Afghanistan, and he certainly was not there by his own volition, he was not there by his own volition and he was not in that compound by his own volition – he had zero choice in either matter.
So while he was in this compound – which apparently had, depending on which testimony you listen to – it had 4 or 5 people in this compound. And the U.S. military decided to attack it, after various things. Every description of what happened for the next 4 or 5 hours – probably too obscene for your radio show what the U.S. special forces guy called it – it was a mess to put it politely. By the time they started attacking the compound, they had 100 U.S. troops; they had Apache and hornets for a compound that had 4 or 5 occupants. They levelled the compound completely, reduced it to rubble, then they sent 6 men in, including one man who was killed, named Speer. While they sent the 6 men in, after 4 or 5 hours of levelling this and throwing everything at it, the U.S. military continued throwing grenades into the compound. Omar was in the compound. Omar says he was the first person wounded in the attack. There is a video on our site, freeomar.ca site, which shows pictures of the compound and Omar’s location in it so you can see for yourself exactly where he was, there’s pictures. Omar was sitting in an alley in the compound with his back to the fight. He was buried in rubble from the collapsed roof. There are pictures there that finally came out in 2008; he was captured in 2002 and we finally got to see these in 2008. He was concussed – severely concussed – because the roof had collapsed on his head. He was blinded by shrapnel in both of his eyes; his ankle was broken; he had shrapnel wounds on every part of his body and he was bleeding out from severe injuries on his leg, on his knee, thigh, ankle and foot, under a pile of rubble.
Some 15 year olds look like adult men. if you look at pictures of Omar then – we have pictures of him on that very day – he was a very very slight 15 year old. He was not one of the ones who look like adult men and the testimony of everyone in Bagram and Guantanamo says the same. From that position – under the rubble with all of these wounds, with a concussion, blinded, he is alleged to have thrown a grenade, from lying on his stomach, with the roof collapsed on him, over his shoulder and the grenade apparently cleared an 8′ wall behind him and travelled 80′ to where the U.S. Special Forces guy was.
Two forensic pathologists have confirmed that Omar was lying prone on his stomach when he was shot. We have photographs where he is covered in rubble and we have testimony from an officer who said he stood on him before he realized the body was there under the rubble. And there was forensic analysis of Speer’s wounds that says it was a U.S. grenade which nobody in the compound had access to. And the terms of the plea deal that Omar was forced to sign allowed the US to destroy all the evidence, including the forensic evidence of the wounds, and when they went to court, they didn’t keep any of the shrapnel that killed Speer. They didn’t keep the forensic analysis which proves his wounds were created by a U.S. grenade. Instead they went to court and they showed a piece of shrapnel that had been taken from a different soldier 6 years after Omar was captured, and said it was pretty much the same thing.
The testimony of the man who shot Omar – he described the scene – and he said he entered the compound where Omar was. He shot one man in the head; he saw Omar – and like I said the forensic pathologists, two of them, say Omar was shot point blank, buried prone on his stomach, shot in the back twice. For those keeping count at home that is a war crime. Omar was screaming from his injuries from the bombing. So apparently not thinking about throwing grenades at people. OC-1 which is the name of the man who shot him – we’re not given his real name – he exited the alley and while he was exiting the alley, he heard grenades being thrown still.
So the story we are given in Canada – we were told Omar was the only person alive in this compound who could possibly have thrown this grenade. Obviously he wasn’t, because there is the man standing beside him who was just shot and when OC-1 exited he said there were still grenades flying all over the place and he gave orders for everyone to fall back because the compound couldn’t be secured. In other words, there were more people there. So lie number one, or lie number whatever we are up to now.
We wouldn’t have known that except like I said every single thing we know is because of a leak. The U.S. military falsified a document that said that Omar was the only person alive in the compound so any deaths must have been a result from him. Then in 2008 they accidentally gave a room full of reporters the original report. That’s kind of a well-known farce, there was a stand off between the U.S. military and the reporters because the reporters refused to give it back and refused to not report on it. Every bit of testimony and every bit of evidence we have from the incident in the compound that day – not only was Omar not the only person who could have thrown the grenade – which is the only evidence that any reasonable court would accept – he was pretty much the only person who we know couldn’t possibly have thrown the grenade. Everybody else was pretty much a possibility except Omar because we have all this evidence that he was buried, that he was at this place, etc. etc.
When he was found he was almost executed again. War crime # 2. This is 2 people in the US military who wanted to execute an almost dead child under rubble. A second commander said “No”. We have a picture of him on the site at that point when they dragged him out – he was a naked child. He was dying, bleeding out. He had these huge wounds in his chest and he was just lying there in that kind of pain on the site, before they choppered him out an hour or so later. And he was brought to Bagram, in critical condition obviously.
So he was in Bagram – everybody knows where Bagram is, I’m assuming?
Glen: Yeah, Bagram is right up there with Abu Ghraib.
Heather: Yes. It’s a hell hole U.S. prison – I mean, you can’t call them prisons, it was a torture camp – famous. He was in Bagram for 3 months before he was transferred to Guantanamo. During that 3 months he was interrogated more than 40 times for up to 8 hours a day. And this part is really critical, because when you hear that Omar confessed to murder this is what they are rubbing in his face when you read that statement. Every time you read that Omar pled guilty, this is what they are rubbing his nose in. He had been shot in the back. He had wounds as big as your fist. His wounds are famous around anybody that has been around Bagram or Guantanamo guards, prisoners or any of the rest of them. He had wounds as big as your fist, two of them. This slight 15 year old. You could see his heart beating. At this point he is dripping infection, he is stilll bleeding, he is severely concussed from having a roof collapse on him, he is blinded by shrapnel in both eyes, his ankle is broken, he has shrapnel wounds in every part of his body, and the injuries in his leg. He was unconscious for one week and as soon as he was awake – he said in his affidavit – he was not in his right wits and he was in extreme pain and that was all he could focus on. He said that in his affadavit, but I don’t think you need a whole lot of imagination to figure that out on our own, right?
Heather: So the first thing he was told when he woke up in this state was that he had killed a U.S. soldier and they began interrogations as soon as he regained consciousness. He couldn’t stand. There was no medical personnel present. He got pain medication only at night and his interrogations were all day long – up to 8 hours long. He was a 15 year old kid. During the first 3 days when he first became conscious they would – again he had a concussion, he had lost a ton of blood, a broken ankle – they would shackle his feet and hands out to his sides with hand cuffs when they didn’t like the answers. So there was no way he was a security risk, this is just torture, right?
Heather: You should really look on our site to see what he looks like when he was shot to be able to appreciate what this is that they were doing. After the first week they would bring him into the interrogation room on a stretcher and whenever they didn’t like the answers they would make him sit up and lie down. Again he had holes the size of fists and they were screaming at him the entire time that he had killed a U.S. soldier. Every day while he was at Bagram, 5 people would come in and change his bandages, again they were using his medical care as an excuse to torture him. They had barking dogs in the interrogation room; they covered his head with a bag so he couldn’t breathe; he was drugged; subjected to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation. He was waterboarded at 15 years old. He was watching people being horrifically tortured every day, hearing the screams 24 hours a day. He was seeing their wounds when they came back, and some of them died. Some that were with him died at Bagram – were murdered at Bagram – and he was aware that they were murdered by the interrogators who were interogating him. He was 15 years old. He was chained hooded in a cage with his arms above his head. Do you know what the cages look like in Bagram? The sort of chicken coop-y things? They left him chained there all day in stress positions for so long he urinated himself, then they poured cleaner on his head and used him as a human mop. Then they refused to allow him any water to clean himself or any of his clothes for days. And his chief interrogator from the time he woke up, the first minute he regained consciousness, his first interrogator was Joshua Klaus, who was later court-marshaled in connection with the deaths of two people in Bagram. So this isn’t just Omar, we all know what happened at Bagram and we could put this together from his injuries and the fact that he was subjected to the same conditions as the people who died and we know what happened at Bagram.
But also, one of his fellow victims at Bagram was Moazzam Beg, the U.K. prisoner? He founded Caged Prisners and is a human rights advocate. He wrote about Omar that he was treated worse than anyone else at Bagram. So picture Bagram, picture a 15 year old child being treated worse than anyone else. At Bagram, they called him Buckshot Bob. They were joking because they had never seen anybody who was that blown apart. Moazzam said “His wounds didn’t look to me like they had been shot by the blast of a shot gun.” I’m reading Moazzam here because I don’t want to get him wrong; “They were much more horrific. Chunks of his chest and shoulder had been blown out or I assumed and he was unable to see through one of his eyes because of one of his injuries. His chest looked like he had a post mortem operation performed on him when he was still alive. He was emaciated, fragile and quiet. The military police guarding us all treated Omar with open contempt and hostility. He was sometimes screamed at all night long, made to stack water bottles which were thrown down again, a hood place over his head while his wrists were shackled to the ceiling and” – note to Canadians – when Moazzam left Bagram, Omar told him, “You’re fortunate, people care about you. No one cares about me.” Moazzam was an adult citizen of the U.K. – he was held less than 3 years. Omar was a Canadian child. He is now in his 13th. He had less reason to be there than any adult, obviously. He was treated worse than any adult and he was right. Moazzam was lucky he wasn’t Omar.
Glen: Well that’s the thing I think we have to keep mentioning at regular intervals. Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizem, always has been. Always has been. I mean you can talk about the other guys who were held but this is just beyond anything else. Omar is still inside, he is still paying. The other men have escaped the system. Maher Arar has become a real voice. Good for him. But I can certainly see how Omar would say that because it is certainly how it appeared.
Glen: Well we covered Bagram and how he was treated and how everyone else knew he was treated and yet, you know, didn’t really seem to matter much. So I’ll bet now we are going to move on to Guantanamo.
Heather: Well, we can if you want to. As you know, Omar is a pretty massive topic.
Glen: Is there more from Bagram?
Heather: Well there is one thing I wanted to point out because I don’t know if I got to the point. I said he was obviously tortured beyond belief, and I said what he said, what we know about Joshua Klaus, what Moazzem Begg said, David Hicks also said – because David Hicks was also there at the same time – and he said that he saw soldiers dragging Omar from his cage to a room and Omar screaming and yelling “Why are you doing this? Please stop. Somebody help.” And David Hicks also said there seemed to be absolutely no point to it except to hurt him and break his will. This seems to be a prevailing theme from everyone around Omar, that they had no idea why he was treated so badly but there was nobody treated as badly as him. From what we know about Bagram we can just imagine what that was like, especially with what we know medically about his injuries.
Obviously a child, in extreme pain, being tortured, with a concussion and all the hell and PTSD of a four hour bombardment, watching everyone around you killed and being in a place in Bagram where he was surrounded by adults and he had absolutely no way of knowing – he says he has no memory of the firefight which is perfecty logical, even if he had retained any memory with the concusion and everything like that, your short term memory doesn’t really last too well through torture like that. So even despite the fact that it was with torture, his confession at Bagram would have been ridiculous. And they repeatedly told him, from the time he regained consciousness they had screamed in his face that he killed a U.S. soldier and then they interrogated him with torture and asked if he did it. He had 300 interrogations in the first 3 years when he was 15 to 18 years old. He was not allowed access to a lawyer in all that time. He was a child, he had no lawyer, he had no adult to turn to, he was never told he was confessing to a crime for a criminal charge, he was held without communication from anyone, no family, no anyone but U.S. military for years, no consular visits, no legal advice.
So when Canadian media say he confessed, he pled guilty, this is what they are talking about. The first time he saw Canadians, 3 years later, he instantly recanted. The first thing he did is he recanted what he said to the U.S. military and asked if they could protect him from the US miltiary. So whenever Canadian media and politicians stand up and say “No, Omar confessed”, this is what they are throwing in his face. This kind of torture and the fact that he said “Yes, whatever, I did it”.
That was just the three months at Bagram. Then there was ten years in Guantanamo and two years in Canada. His life for 13 years has been absolute hell. I don’t think we have time to cover all the hell his life has been. The other thing I really did want to get to, we can go to Guantanamo if you wanted to, but I did want to talk about the charges because these are the things that are coming up every day in Canadian media now and yes we all know Guantanamo and eveything that happend there as well. It should be gone over and it should be something that every Canadian learns but what is in the media now is this statement the Canadian media keeps making. CBC, every time they say his name, “pled guilty to 5 war crimes”, right? I think its important that Canadians understand what their state media is lying about when they are telling lies like this about a Canadian citizen. So if you don’t mind I’d like to go over the charges for a sec, is that ok?
Heather: Ok. Confession or no, he has absolutely never pled guilty to anything that constitutes a war crime. He has never admitted any conduct that could possibly be a war crime. There are internationally recognised war crimes that have been committed against Omar, obviously, several of them. Let’s make like the U.S. and Canadian governments here and ignore all evidence in this case. Let’s just pretend he killed somebody and just ignore everything. Everybody knows, every child knows, killing a soldier in battle is not a war crime or a murder. Murder is unlawful killing. I have for years and years in the context of Omar’s case fought with people online about this and they say “Oh well, it’s a grey area, it’s a matter of opinion.” Murder is not a matter of opinion. Murder is a legal definition, it’s a crime, and the legal definition of murder is unlawful killing. And killing a soldier in battle is not unlawful killing. You are protected by combatant’s privilege. This is not a crime. And we know it is not a crime because over 6,700 U.S. military troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and not one single one of those has been called a murder and not one single one of those has resulted in a criminal charge to anybody except Omar. Not to mention the one million Iraqis who mostly are war crimes because they are mostly civilians and mostly killed in ways that are prohibited.
Everybody knows this isn’t a war crime and I think as Canadians we used to understand that a lot better 12 years ago, before we had this incessantly drummed into our heads. When they say “including murder”, especially the Toronto Star, this is their favourite line, “five war crimes including murder” – murder is not a war crime. Murder is a civilian crime. And what they are doing, they are doing a little word game with you there and shortening ‘murder in violation of the laws of war’ to ‘murder’ because Canadians understand murder. Everybody understands what murder is, they think, but this certainly wasn’t any such thing. And even if it was, in order for it to be tried with any semblance of legality at all, Omar had to defined as either a combatant or a civilian – the two types of courts we have. We have military courts and civilian courts. If he was a civilian, which is what murder would have been, he would have been tried in a civilian court in the U.S. or Canada or Afghanistan. They had three options. He had no case with any prayer of being upheld in any civilian court anywhere.
If he had been treated as a civilian he would have been entitled to access to his lawyer, to habeas corpus, to a real trial with real laws, real evidence, real witnesses, no evidence obtained under torture. We saw even as late as 2008, in the U.S. state cables, the U.S. offered – they asked Canada if we would consider repatriating Omar and trying him in a Canadian court. Canadians flat out said, “No way, he would never be convicted in a Canadian court.” That is in the U.S. state cables (ask me for the link). Think about that while remembering that Canada right now is upholding this sentence: they said in 2008 that there is no way that he would ever be convicted in a Canadian court. And there is something about a crime having to be a crime in the country that is going along with it in the home country too – there are several laws about that. And besides, to target civilians in a war – if Omar was a civilian, targeting civilians in a war is a real war crime as well, and Omar was shot twice in the back while blinded and buried in debris – which is a war crime whether he is civilian or military, he was a helpless enemy in any case.
So Omar had be depicted as a combatant, and he had to be depicted in active combat for the U.S. to have shot him in the back. If he was designated as a combatant because we can’t try him in a civilian court, then he would have been a prisoner of war and the U.N. and the ICC both forbid the trying of child soldiers under 18. The U.N. instantly came out with a statement that said Omar was a child soldier then, if you are trying him in a military court he’s a child soldier, don’t try it. And the U.S. ignored them. He would have been entitled to prisoner of war protection since the US were pretending that they were adhering to the spirit of Geneva even though they certainly didn’t, but a prisoner of war, of course there is a whole body of law – they must be treated humanely, they must not be interrogated, they only have to give their name rank and serial number and of course the big one – if the US actually thought Omar was a soldier, killing a US soldier is not a crime – combatant immunity – combatant privilege.
So they created, the US then created this special non-civilian, non-military thing that they called an unlawful enemy combatant that had no rights as a civilian or a POW. Unlawful combatants exist. You can’t just walk up and shoot a soldier. Some people are unlawful combatants. They are called civilians, and they are entitled to civilian protection. In unprivileged enemy combatant, the US definition comes down to not properly identifying yourself as a combatant. But in international law, repeatedly, it is fairly unanimous that you don’t have wear a uniform if you don’t have one, so it doesn’t apply to any of the people the US is fighting here. But actually, this unlawful enemy combatant that they have created here, it does apply perfectly to the CIA, to Obama and his drones, and to the guy Omar is alleged to have murdered, Speer, because the reason Speer died is because he wasn’t wearing his Special Forces uniform with the helmet and everything, he was wearing Afghani uniform. So he was doing exactly what the U.S. military is accusing Omar of here which is not dressing in his proper uniform but in Speer’s case he is an actual unlawful enemy combatant because he had one, and Omar isn’t. So alien unlawful enemy combatant, the way the U.S. interpreted it, it means that U.S. soldiers can kill children but it is a war crime for children to kill U.S. soldiers.
Glen: Well this unlawful enemy combatant, you know this came through John Manley.
Heather: The definition is bizarre. If it could stand up in a real court that would be the end of Obama and all his cohorts. Including the CIA and everybody else.
And also, pay attention to this, because we know that the U.S. is a complete rogue state that doesn’t believe in anything and doesn’t sign any international law, but Canada isn’t and Canada has signed all these international agreements and is a party to all the Geneva Conventions, the ICC and everything like that. The ICC says there is no gap between the 3rd and 4th Geneva COnventions. You are under the protection of one or the other. You have rights under the 3rd or 4th Geneva Convention. The U.S. pretended there was a “no man’s land” between the two conventions which had less rights than any animal and they dropped Omar into this No Man’s Land. The US claims they can create their own rules because they don’t recognize the ICC or Geneva but Canada can’t. Canada is a signatory to all of these agreements and they certainly can’t make up rules like that.
All these sham laws and trials and courts have no international or even U.S. legitimacy. Detainee – this term that keeps being used by media around the world, including Canada, completely unquestioningly. The reason we call these people “detainees” is to let the U.S. get around the fact that that they were not adhering to either the 3rd or the 4th Geneva Convention. Why is our media using that term? It is completely U.S. propaganda. The only appropriate term for the men at Guantanamo is victims of a crime, or several crimes. They are Guantanamo victims, not Guantanamo detainees.
So anyway, they created this weird, illegal, no man’s land with no rights for Omar. So the trial is a complete sham already before it exists because he is not given rights under the 3rd or 4th Geneva Convention, and they still have no crimes to charge him with. The U.S. constitution said that the U.S. Congress can establish a military commission and they said the scope of the military commission was to try enemies for internationally recognised war crimes only. And of course like any court that is not a complete kangaroo court, that has any pretentions of being anything remotely legal, you have to charge people with things that were actually crimes at the time they were committed. You can’t just write laws in 2006 and 2009 to try people captured in 2002, which is what the U.S. did.
They also ignored the part about internationally recognised. The 2006 commission created this bizarre body of pseudo-law that referenced the U.S. civil war kinda sorta and pretended that there is this body of law called the U.S. Laws of War which nobody had ever heard of before until 2006. Suddenly we have this historical body of law that is the U.S. laws of war. The whole point of laws of war is that they are international. They make absolutely no sense at all if they are made up by one party. They are supposed to be international laws of war that govern wars between more than one party. And the U.S. constitution says this as well. So even within the U.S. this is bizarre. So in 2012 when Osama Bin Laden’s driver Hamdan, had all his convictions thrown out – which is one of the most beautiful court documents I have ever read, the verdict handed down in the Hamdan case is well worth the read if you want to understand anything about the Guantanamo commissions or the farce that Omar and everybody else went through. He had all of his charges thrown out, Hamdan did, in 2012, because 1. they were ex post facto: retroactive prosecution for crimes that did not exist at the time exactly as Omar’s are, and 2. they were not internationally recognized. And so Omar’s U.S. appeal must also be successful for the exact same reasons.
And when Hamdan came through, Canadian media instantly said, ‘oh, but Hamdan doesn’t apply to Omar.’ They said, because ‘Omar was charged with murder’. It is complete crap, it’s complete crap. Everything that came down at the Hamdan verdict applies to every single one of Omar’s charges.
Omar’s five charges. Okay let’s go through them one at a time here.
He had “material support for terrorism”, which Hamdan explicitly threw out.
He had “conspiracy”, which Hamdan also explicitly threw out.
“Material support for terrorism” was not a pre-existing war crime and it wasn’t internationally recognized. “Conspiracy” was rejected at Nurnberg. It was not international and Hamdan threw it out again.
Then we have “murder or attempted murder in violation in the laws of war”. This is …. invented ……..war crime…….. [connection breaks up] …………….
Heather: Connection gone again?
Glen: Yeah we didn’t get any of the last thirty seconds. It was all broken up.
Heather: Okay so how is it now. Is it completely gone again?
Glen: Yes, sounds good now.
Heather: (soft laugh) Where was I?
Glen: You were going over the five charges and you were saying what was thrown out because of Hamdan. And that, yes I think that the end result is that because of Hamdan it proves that if Omar’s appeal is heard …
Glen: Yes, then it’s thrown out.
Heather: Two of the charges were explicitly thrown out by Hamdan which are “conspiracy’ and “material support for terrorism”. “Murder or attempted murder in violation in the laws of war” those definitions were created in 2006 so ex post facto. Not internationally recognized, again, they fall exactly under the same two principles that came up with the Hamdan verdict.
“Spying” this is actually one of my favorites. Spying, Omar was charged with spying, in violation of the laws of war yet. And it’s a ‘war crime’. So in order to be – Hamdan said spying had not attained international recognition anyway. What Omar was charged with here: to be charged with spying, because I mean this is pretty ironic considering the world we live in anyway. But to be charged with spying, you have to be caught in the act. You have to be on U.S. territory, snooping around somewhere you’re not supposed to be and you need to use deception. Like to have tricked somebody to do that, right?
Heather: That’s the definition, the legal definition, of what you can prosecute on spying. Because spying is a funny thing, because everybody does it all the time, but it’s just if you get caught, right? So what they were charging Omar for spying for, is because as a child in Afghanistan…
Okay how they said he used deception was because he was wearing his clothes. He wasn’t wearing military uniform for the fairly obvious fact that he didn’t belong to a military. He was wearing the clothes a kid would wear. So this is what they call “deception”. He was standing by the side of the road, which was not U.S. property, it was the side of the road in Afghanistan. And he was watching, according to the U.S., he was watching U.S. military vehicles go by and telling somebody that U.S. military vehicles went by. Without any evidence whatsoever that he did this, what they are saying is: you observed a presence patrol, a U.S. military presence patrol. And what a U.S. military presence patrol is for, is it’s a public show of force. Like, when the military goes straight down the main street to let everybody know the U.S. military have big guns and they are a big deal around here. That is the patrol that Omar as a kid, wearing kid clothes, was standing by the side of the road, with all the other kids watching, and that is the bases of his spying charge. There is so many ‘not internationally recognized’ there, it’s not even funny right?
Glen: Well I mean, the whole thing of this, they are just trying to have more, not any quality not any reality to the charges, just more. Just dream up more, just make a higher pile.
Heather: They said it’s a war crime for anyone to kill the U.S. military or to look at them. It’s illegal to fight the U.S..
Glen: That sounds like an American law.
Heather: It does, can you tell me why Canadians are upholding this?
Glen: Well there are many reasons for that. I mean we can go back to John Manley with the anti-terrorism legislation. It was a matter of commerce. It had nothing to do with security, it was because we needed American money. And I don’t think that’s really changed. In all this time.
Heather: You know when Canadians read any story about Omar Khadr I would really like us to look at the people saying that Omar:
1) that he pled guilty, when they know that – any journalist in Canada surely knows the story – they know what they are saying when they’re saying that he pled guilty. It’s an absolutely horrible, vile, disgusting thing to say to somebody who had been through that. When they say he pled guilty to five war crimes? They are flat out lying their faces off to the Canadian people. These are not Canadian war crimes, these are not internationally recognized war crimes. They aren’t even U.S. recognized war crimes. So why is our state media lying to us, about what is a war crime and what is not a Canadian recognized war crime. I mean surely our state media’s job is to educate the public in the norms of our society and our laws.
It’s like the Sun media polls to decide citizenship. Or CBC, also runs polls to decide how we should behave. We have a legal system. What do we have a legal system for if our media are going to decide all these things for us and create new war crimes when they don’t exist?
Glen: Well this is a way to avoid the courts. You convict in the court of public opinion. That’s what they are doing. The last thing they want to do is go to court. Look at the Harper government they are 0 for 11 at the Supreme court. They don’t want to go to court. They want to do it in the public venue. Because they know they’re going to lose in court. They know it.
Heather: We have something on our website too – please tweet it at any media, or send it to any media that you see using these words. The incomparable Gail Davidson wrote it, from Lawyers Right Watch Canada. It’s just a reminder to media that when they say these words:
Crimes are violations of statutory penal law – he committed none.
War crimes are serious violations of International Humanitarian Law – he committed none.
A guilty plea is the accused freely and voluntarily given in open court and
involuntary statements are not admissible.
Also, looking back over everything I have just gone on about over for the last over an hour here, there are war crimes in this case. Omar did not commit any. But him [Omar] being shot in the back while lying prone under the rubble is an obvious war crime. Him being tortured is a war crime. And, Canada, right now, the U.S. can say they are not a signatory to the ICC or the Geneva Convention or anything else because they are a completely rogue nation. But Canada has obligations under all these treaties. Canada is right now imposing a sentence without a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, with all the judicial guarantees which Canadian citizens and international citizens are entitled to. And that is a huge breach of the Geneva Conventions and it is a crime in Canada. Every day that Omar Khadr spends in jail is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and Canada is breaking International Humanitarian Law by keeping him there. Because he was never sentenced by anything like a regularly constituted court. We know it. We have unending evidence of it. He was not sentenced to any crimes that are real crimes. All evidence, everything that has happened in the trial was just a complete farce.
Those are three war crimes right there, and every single one of them is being committed against Omar. And Canada was complicit in the torture and they are right now committing a violation of the Geneva Conventions by keeping him in jail.
Glen: We know why. Because it works for them. No other reason.
Heather: The other one you will find in Canadian media all the time, Toronto Star and CBC and all the rest of them, is: When he [Omar] was first captured, we were told that he had killed a U.S. medic. There is a fairly obvious reason for that, because everybody knows, a soldier killing a soldier is not a crime – or a war crime. But killing a medic is.
We were told that he had killed a medic and he was the only one still alive to do so. So a medic is a protected person under the Geneva Conventions, right?
So if Omar had killed a medic, if he had done so knowingly, which obviously – if he lobbed a grenade from that prone position and somehow magically hit this guy – that, was not knowingly …
If the medic was wearing clear insignia , which he certainly wasn’t, he was wearing an Afghani uniform – disguised; in violation of the laws of war.
If the medic was not in active combat, which he certainly was, he was a Special Forces trained commando.
If Omar had been an adult.
None of these conditions are met. And not only that, Christopher Speer was not a medic. He was an elite commando, he was a member of the 19th Special Forces group. They were trained as medics as part of their training. Every member of the Special Forces has medic training. That does not mean they are medics. They did not act as medics. He was acting as a professional killer, he was not acting as a professional medic.
You will see in Canadian media all the time, that he was a medic and the only reason for that is because they are trying to pretend that Omar committed a war crime, where there was none.
And not only was there none, but the US never even ever bothered trying to pull that. They never tried to present Speer as a medic. When we got the Guantanamo files leaked, in the WikiLeaks batch, he wasn’t called a medic. He was never called a medic in any court documents, that is a Canadian media invention. A deliberate lie to manipulate Canadian outlook and make them think that this is an actual real war crime. For the Canadians that are intelligent enough to know that, no, killing a soldier in a battle is not a crime.
They are once again trying to bypass Canadian law, recognize crimes that we don’t have, right?
Glen: Well crimes that didn’t even happen. Never mind if they exist or not.
Heather: Well everything. The court wasn’t real, the crimes weren’t real, the evidence wasn’t real, the witnesses weren’t real. Omar’s category, this Neverland with no rights wasn’t real, the entire thing from start to finish was a farce.
Glen: And yet it goes on.
Heather: And yet it goes on. And every single day that it does Canada is committing an International crime by keeping him there.
Glen: Something I mentioned in the opening was the other Canadians who had been rounded up, with CSIS giving tips to foreign intelligence agencies to arrest Canadians outside of Canada, which changed all the rules for rendition and anything else…
Glen:They made it clear that once they were freed and returned, that CSIS kept putting out these false flags about them. ‘They actually are terrorists but they got off on a technicality.’ No, the technicality is they’re fucking innocent. That’s what the technicality is.
That has never stopped for Omar and I would put it right at the CSIS doorstep. Just like as for everybody else.
Heather: Exactly. And Canadian media is kind of a one voice thing. Every single article; if it’s from Sun Media: it says “Killer Khadr”; if it’s from Toronto Star it says “Omar Khadr who pled guilty to five war crimes including murder”. They’re both saying the exact same thing. It is a one voice media. And that is the description.
You could be calling him “The Tortured Child who was a Victim of Bagram” but no, we don’t have any voice like that. We have the exact same message, cohesive message, in every single outlet in twelve and a half years.
Glen: While we brought CSIS in to it, I know that a lot of people have seen the video of CSIS interrogating Omar at Guantanamo. I think that is one of the most false, duplicitous, evil things I have ever seen anybody, working for Canada, do. What a circus that was. I just dare any other Canadian citizen to think about people from your government coming to see you and that’s how they treat you. That’s how they work for you.
Heather: The Canadian passive aggressive, the way they conduct themselves… There is an old story – apocryphal probably – about Trudeau and some U.S. ambassador, where the U.S. ambassador said something about Canada is so nice that we didn’t murder all our first nations people and Trudeau said, “Yes you shot yours, we starved ours to death”. I mean, that is Canada. Like CSIS with the nasty little spiteful behind-your-back messages to foreign governments. We are seeing more and more people leave Canada and they can’t go back and they can’t fly or they are arrested in some foreign country. The way our media is, and the way that country is, nobody wants to say they were refused board on any flight because they were on a no flight list. As a Canadian, you don’t dare say that you are refused board, because you will get that passive aggressive ‘you must be guilty’.
And the whole: Canada refusing to give him his sun glasses, refusing any medical care, refusing to bring him up here. We’ll just let the U.S. deal with that. I’ve heard for years and years people say, “Oh Canada is doing the U.S.’s dirty work by keeping Omar in Guantanamo and I do not believe that for one second. Canada was behind that …
Glen: Heather you are breaking up again.
But, we know what you said. There’s all the other cases. Between 2001 and 2004, three other Canadians were arrested by Syrian authorities on false information, supplied by CSIS. Linking them to terrorism. All of them were held for prolonged periods, without charge, and tortured. CSIS assisted the Syrian interrogators. Just like they did in GTMO to help they Americans. One of the men was transferred to an Egyptian prison and they carried on there. And there is the case of Mahar Arar, which a lot of people are familiar with. It was the same damn thing. There has been another case, in 2010, of a Canadian being being arrested while he was out of the country and his family home was raided by 50 armed RCMP, with no warrant, looking for a bomb and found nothing. This stuff is been going on for a long time. This guy Mr Cowaja has found proof that the Security Minister Ann McLellan sent a message from Ottawa to arrest this guy. But suddenly the Liberal government seem to have misplaced that. They couldn’t find it. So this has been going on for such a long time. It is not just Harper. I wish it was. But it’s not. It’s Canada! This is what people have to understand here. It is too easy to blame this on Harper, like so many other things that we can. This has been going on a lot longer.
[Contact restored with Heather]
Glen: Heather, I said my piece about all the other Canadians that have been screwed up.
For the amount of time that Omar was held in Guantanamo, there was never a case brought. There was never formal charges, there was never access to legal help. There was the CSIS bait and switch. Is there any reason? What reason did they give that he sat in Guantanamo for all these years?
Heather: You know Glen, I would dearly, dearly, dearly love to see what is in Omar’s file and in CSIS and the Canadian government everywhere. All I know about Omar and why he was treated so horribly and why he is still in there and why he has never been allowed to communicate with anybody, all I know about it: it is the most tightly protected secret I have ever seen in Canada. So I would really like to know why. All I know from reading the U.S. state cables and from watching this government fight every single thing, all the way up to the Supreme Court and not letting anybody ever communicate with Omar and not letting Omar have any communication out. And the spite and the malice that has been around this case for twelve and a half years, all I know is, that it is really important to them for some reason.
And if you look at the things that the Canadian media have not covered. There have been no reports in the Canadian media for twelve and a half years that have been in-depth reports on Omar’s health. All the injuries that he has had and the medical care he has not received and everything that is physically wrong with the man. We have no information about that. They have never covered that. They have never covered CSIS involvement properly. We get those quick little mentions of the court cases. Nobody has ever told us, who those men were. There is no investigative reporting, there is nobody asking questions of the Canadian government, in any real way at all, about CSIS involvement at any point. We haven’t had any decent journalism on this topic for twelve and a half years accept one CBC documentary that was very good.
We need to start asking a whole lot more questions and a whole lot different questions from different angles.
Glen: That just goes back to the concentration of main stream media and the purpose it has taken on; instead of informing it is merely to opinion-ize and direct. If an issue like the lack of medical treatment, I would say, in the Canadian population that would probably would be the number one hot button issue, the way to get people pissed off for what they had done, was for them to understand the seriousness of his injuries. The perilous condition of his eyesight and yet the government refuses to do anything. That’s why they can’t bring this up because that is something that people will understand. In a hurry.
Heather: But even stuff like, this is a man who absolutely craves mental stimulation. He’s so smart and he thinks so very deeply about so many things and he is so curious and his education is another thing that they have put every obstacle in his way. Yes now his eyesight, but all these years of putting every obstacle in his way. When he came to Canada he was refused access to books he was even allowed at Guantanamo.
Guantanamo is such a bizarre world of surreal pseudo-legal things. According to Guantanamo, all the torture, abuse, solitary confinement, and everything you are enduring at that place, is not actually punitive. So by the time his trial came along he was actually not in solitary. He had been in solitary most of his time in Bagram and Guantanamo, all those years. He had actually gotten out of solitary confinement. After his trial, they decided – only the U.S. could be this twisted – they decided they were obeying the spirit of the Geneva Conventions for once in their lives. And after he was ‘convicted’ he was a ‘convicted criminal’, so he couldn’t be associated with – now they were ‘prisoners of war’ for a minute – the rest of the population. So they put him back in solitary. Solitary is hell for anybody. It is internationally recognized torture. It causes lasting damage to you mentally and in many other ways. Many people have testified they would rather any kind of physical torture than solitary confinement. But he was thrown back in solitary confinement, and interrogated again because they decided all those years before weren’t punitive, so he had to have ‘punitive post conviction confinement’ after his trial.
By the time he left Guantanamo he was in 18 hours a day in solitary confinement. He came to Canada, they threw him in 23 hours a day solitary confinement. Try to imagine that, try to do that yourself and see how quickly you go crazy. And not only that; they took away all his possessions, they took away all his books, they took away everything. The reason they did this is because in spite all these years of never having a bad report of Omar from any of those prison guards, from any of these psychiatrists or from anybody. Despite Guantanamo and everybody else saying ‘he was a model prisoner’ our Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews decided that he had to assess Omar. The way he assessed Omar is by putting him for 23 hours a day in solitary confinement which is known to course mental damage. How would this make any sense at all?
Glen: It’s just stacking the deck. Because they can. That’s all.
Heather: Because They Can, exactly. This whole thing, this twelve and a half years, there is no other reason I can come up with accept ‘Because They Can’. It is like Moazzam Begg said it, and everybody who had been anywhere near Omar in prison, they do not understand why he has been treated this way. There is no reason. There is no logical reason. If you read the Guantanamo files, the first thing it says is that they are interested in him because of his dad. Because they are interested in his dad’s friend. Nothing to do with Omar. There was never any pretense that he was a risk. There was never any remotely believable case that he had done anything wrong. The whole entire thing is just incomprehensible.
Glen: Like I said before, I would love to be able to pin all this evil coming out of the Canadian federal system on Harper, but I can’t because it has been going on a lot longer then that. Is it cognitive dissonance or it’s a lack of knowledge, but Canadians simply don’t want to believe this sort of thing, about their Canada. But it is true.
Heather: I have often thought that Canada right now is in many ways in the same position as the U.S. twenty years ago. Twenty years ago the U.S. thought they were the light of the world. Watching them from the outside, they were so convinced they were amazing and they’ve had this wrench of, they’ve had to perceive themselves a completely different way. They have had to face so many realities about themselves that they weren’t aware of. Canada hasn’t done that yet. Canada is still completely believing the myth of the nice Canadian, the polite Canadian who everybody loves, the Human Rights Canadian. They will not face the mirror which is: it’s never been like that, never since the beginning of time. But we have always had amazing media control that presented this image of ourselves that we really fell in love with. We absolutely refuse to face anything different.
Glen: Mainstream media will do nothing to tarnish that dead ideal. They like to keep that out there like it still exists.
Heather: For us, and for people outside Canada as well, yes, sparkly white Canadians.
Reading the U.S. state cables, when I first got to be able to search for Khadr and see what was said, it was the most devastating thing, Glen, as a Canadian. As somebody who has watched Omar go through this all these years and has been wondering all these years what it would take. Everywhere I go in the world, people say: ‘Why do Canadians do this? Tell us what’s wrong with Canadians.’ Then they sit there and look at me and I don’t have a clue.
I don’t understand how to make them [Canadians] react. I don’t understand how they put up with this for so long, but if you read the U.S. state cables, it was horrifying to see it staring at your face. The U.S. Ambassador saying things like: there would be virtually no political blowback domestically for the Conservative Party if the government chose to pursue an appeal to holding up Omar’s human rights.
When they fought all the way to have that video of the CSIS interrogation shown, and Omar’s legal team fought for so long and at such great expense, how many hundreds, thousands of hours they put in on this case, to get this video and show it to the Canadian people, and the U.S. state cable said the apparent hope of Khadr’s Canadian/U.S. lawyers, that dramatic footage of Omar’s tears and complaints would create a groundswell of more favourable public opinion and it would help the government to reverse course, seems to have failed. “Competing joys of the all to brief Canadian summer essentially kept any genuine pressure off the government.” Every Canadian should read the absolute smug contempt for Canadians that both the U.S. and Canadian officials have around this case. The U.S. were actually very concerned, very very concerned about what Canadian opinions were around the treatment of Omar. The Canadians were absolutely arrogant in their very accurate belief that we would do absolutely nothing.
Glen: It’s sad. As you mentioned, the U.S. 20 years ago, we are definitely seeing the same incrementalism that’s been going on, especially since 2006. I guess it’s an issue that sooner or later the whole western so-called first world nations, so-called democracies are going to have to face because there is no free lunch, number one, and number two, the cake is a lie.
Heather: Yes, like I always say The Truman Show starred a Canadian for a reason. Right now we are using Harper the way the U.S. used Bush. They said it’s all Bush’s fault; we were perfect until Bush, Bush the war criminal, Bush is all our problem. We’ll vote Bush out and we’ll all be happy again. We’ll vote for Obama and we’ll be a perfect nation again. And I think Canadians are definitely dong this. But, you know what, Harper is not our problem. The rot goes a lot deeper than Harper.
Glen: Listeners to this show will be able to verify that I have said numerous times on air, that replacing Steven/Bush with Justin/Obama is not going to solve anything.
Heather: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. Bush/Harper make me nauseated, Obama/Trudeau give me hives. There is no improvement in anyhing that we can see there. I mean, as if we choose our Prime Minister anyway. We just happened to accidentally choose how many PMs for decades and decades and each one was financially dependent on or actually related to Paul Desmarais and the Power Corporation? There is going to be no change with anyone coming up.
Glen: It’s the same as the skull and bones making presidents in the U.S.
Heather: The Canadian media loves to say that Omar Khadr is a controversial case in Canada, and Canadians are polarized by him, when the average Canadian doesn’t have a clue who Omar Khadr is. They certainly didn’t before he came home. They were hardly polarized. If you went out on the streets and asked the average Canadian, most of them didn’t know who he was or got him mixed up with one of the others. They were definitely not polarized. But all of these articles for years have quoted people as concerned citizens against Omar Khadr, and if you look at who those concerned citizens are, and Sun media was the only one actually honest enough to put their faces on TV but we’ve seen them at their microscopic rallies against Omar that are gven so much attention in our media, and who they are is this bizarre coalition of the Canadian Jewish Defence League (JDL), which is the Canadian branch of the group that the U.S. FBI have designated as a terrorist group. So we have a terrorist group who is concerned about somebody, a child, they are calling a terrorist. There is a strange thing called the Hindu Advocacy League which is one guy, and the Christian group at the root of the Reform Party. Anyway it’s this weird tiny little group that have created a coalition that they call concerned citizens against Omar Khadr and they like to pretend they are this grassroots movement. The slightest glance at who the people are and you know, they’re the JDL! Can you even imagine anybody, say in Greece or Germany, reporting that somebody is advocating against a Muslim citizen or his family without mentioning that they were the Golden Dawn or neo-nazis? And that’s what we have, they don’t mention who these people are at all.
The other thing the Canadian media keeps doing is promoting harassment to the family. Both Toronto Star and CBC have published the address of Omar’s grandmother. How low can you be? Nobody’s ever pretended his grandparents have done anything wrong, they weren’t near Afghanistan, they did nothing. But they published their address.
Glen: That’s true. Canadian media doxed Omar’s grandmother. That’s true. And as far as I know that’s against the law.
Heather: Do we have any laws? Is it against the law for them to lie? I’d like to know!
Glen: Well there are laws for us and there are laws for them.
Heather: We used to have a broadcasting law, remember that? When they couldn’t deliberately lie to the Canadian people?
Glen: Well that is why Fox News did not get a Canadian channel because the CRTC ruled that they fabricate. And I think that was the last good decision made in Canada. I think that was around 2008.
Heather: Well, when you read that “Omar Khadr pled guilty to five war crimes including murder”? That’s how many lies in that one tiny phrase? I mean, just count the lies in that phrase. And we hear that every single day out of our state media and the Toronto Star.
Glen: Obviously it’s the boilerplate they are going to run with forever and it’s not just the media, it’s the government. It’s duplicitous. It’s collusion is what it is.
Heather: Well, if we read the US state cables, they will run with it until we stop them. All the U.S. state cables were about was watching Canada: ‘Are they going to react to this? Haha, they didn’t.’ It was devastating to read, really, all these years of trying to get a reaction out of Canada and then reading – you know they said “8 in 10 Canadians who saw the footage did not change their vews on Khadr”. You see that kind of smug statement in a cable from the U.S. and Canada – they were watching us, we could’ve reacted, we could’ve had Omar home. He didn’t have to go through all of this. Canadians who say, whenever I bring [Omar] up, “Oh, you know, Harper, oh, the media … ” It was us all along. If you read the U.S. state cables, it was us all alonng. We had the power to change it, we still have the power to change it. And we just aren’t.
Glen: Exactly. And that is something that the freeomar.ca website makes sure that you see. We can change this because the fact exists: there’s never been a criminal charge, there’s never been a criminal conviction anywhere. Afghanistan, United States, Canada, nowhere. They haven’t even brought charges because they know they won’t win. Habeas corpus, this is the absolute definition of it. Why is this man in jail?
Heather: All the court cases that his team has fought, pro bono, you know it’s exhausting for his tiny tiny legal team, it’s exhausting for them financially, they are fighting on so many different fronts and they can’t keep up with this and they have no support from, again, the Canadian people. You know it’s horrible when you watch a potato salad get more support than a tortured child. People just really don’t want me to say this, but they’ve had twelve and a half years and it’s time that people grew up and faced it. If they want Canada to be a perfect place like it is in their brains, it requires some effort to make this happen.
Glen: That’s true.
Heather: It’s not like Canada couldn’t. Canada has such amazing potential. Even our laws, the laws around First Nations and property rights and things like that, in so many ways there is more potential for us to create real change than pretty much anywhere else on earth. It just requires a little bit of effort. What we always thought we were was this leading human rights light of the world, we are in every position to be.
Glen: Well again, comparing us to our neighbour to the south, I think something Canada is guilty of in the last few decades is now we buy our own shit. People tell us that we are this and we are that and we say “Yeah, we are, aren’t we cool.” And then that’s it. Which is unfortunate because there is no democracy without participation. And I’m sorry, Canada is not a democracy right now.
Heather: Well there’s no participation. People just go home and do their thing. There is 0 time for fellow Canadians who are in trouble like Omar is, or like many many other cases we could name. Canadians who are put on the no fly list or get in trouble away from home, they wouldn’t dare come back to Canada and say that. They know what would happen. They wouldn’t exactly be supported, would they?
Glen: The Harper government has been especially vigilant in pumping that up too, with all this ongoing nationalism and “We’ll define what a Canadian is for you.” It’s McCarthyism is what it is. Divide and conquer is method one for these guys and it’s not just the Conservatives, it’s how business is done. As long as people keep eating it when it’s put in front of them. People say to me, how do we fight this government? How do we get people to see them for what they are? I say, use the same methods. They use them because they work. Just change the message. But use the same methods. “Well no, we’re not going to stoop to their level.” Well, they got there by using those methods. So if you want to beat them it only makes sense you should probably use what works. But that’s just me. Ridiculous. But it’s going to be a big year. And I hope that Omar gets mentioned when the campaign starts.
Heather: Not one of these three candidates is willing to even look at you if you mention his name. I’m going to have Justin’s people on me right now saying “Justin spoke!” (laughs) I want Omar free, ok? I just want to leave it at that. Get Omar free. The Canadian people have it well within their power. There is not some legal process keeping him there, we are actually breaking the law every day that he is there. It requires political pressure, it requires pressure from Canadians, both to get him treated properly and to get him out of there.
Glen: When he was first repatriated, the government put him in a maximum security institution right off the bat. Then his legal teamtook it to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and they ruled that the federal court didn’t make any sense. And that’s how he got into a medium security faciliy. Again this just proves the point, all these world players spinning these stories, the last place they want to be is in a real court. Because we know what happens.
Heather: But he is fighting on so many fronts right now. It’s absolutely exhausing for one little pro bono legal team to keep coming up with these things when he is being attacked and every single thing is appealed right up to the Supreme Court every single time, it’s ridiculous. And the spite and malice surrounding every single thing to do with Omar that takes every little comfort from him. This boy has dreamed of seeing Canada all these years; he has dreamed of anything beautiful, any picture, any poetry, you know he craves stimulation as anyone who has been in solitary all his life would, and he will probably be blind before he sees Canada. Before he gets to read anything he wants, before he gets to see anything.
Glen: There’s no words for that. That’s beyond a crime. Such human indifference. And coming from Canada no less. Canadians need to absorb this.
Heather:The message is so controlled. The media is so controlled, we are given this glossy glossy Truman Show picture of ourselves to look at – you know it’s totally like the Truman Show, the security that scurry out as soon as you try to look behind the curtain, right?
Omar not having any Canadians, he had not communicated with his family, no consular visits, nothing for all those years in Guantanamo. Then when he first did talk to his family five years later, this child was 15 years old and he did not talk to his family until he was 20 years old, and when he talked to his family a Canadian foreign Affairs official had to be present and ensure that there was absolutely no attorneys present at the other end of the phone. The calls had to be in English despite the fact that every other Guantanamo detainee, if they chose to, they were allowed to speak in Arabic. He was forbidden pens in Guantanamo when other detainees were allowed them. Just on and on and on, he has been kept under lockdown like no other human being I have seen in my life, like I said, I always wanted to know what the heck are they afraid of. Anything they are guarding that carefully I think we should really try to see. And he’s not allowed to speak to media. One of the court cases right now is to try to get him able to speak to the media. Every communication is so monitored. The Minister of Public Safety said they would have to lock down the entire prison for Omar to speak to a reporter. That is honestly what he said, including the chapel and everything, the entire prison would have to be on lockdown for this one 28 year old guy who has never done anything or had anything bad said about him by anybody to speak to a reporter.
Glen: Well that’s just a way of making up so many excuses that it’s not going to happen, that’s all that is. And it’s being allowed to be done.
Heather: And Canadians, passive aggressive, passive aggressive, passive aggressive, till one year passes, two years passes, we are in our thirteenth year now, the man is 28 years old, and Canadians are just like “Yes, yes, we’ll get on with it, it just has to go through the process.” You know, meanwhile, he’s going to die in there.
Glen: This process they are talking about they are making up as they go, this is the problem.
Heather: Well Harper has said, he doesn’t care and the Minister of Public Safety, they’ve both said, even if the appeal in the U.S. is successful they don’t care. They’ve got him in prison and it’s up to their parole board whether he gets out or not, not up to a U.S. appeal. So they accepted a verdict from an absolute kangaroo court. We didn’t go over the trial but the trial was even worse than any of the rest of it. They actually – I told you they showed shrapnel from a different guy six years later as evidence. They showed a simulation of a jeep blowing up. Even though Omar didn’t blow up a jeep and wasn’t charged with blowing up a jeep, they still showed a simulation of one. We have no idea why, it’s kind of like CNN talking about Anonymous. [Fox News actually] They brought in an expert witness who had actually falsified his resume and was no expert witness at all. Even the judge said he would be more likely to be accurate if he used a ouija board. The whole entire trial, it would take another two hours to go over the trial. But this the Canadian government is happily upholding, but they have said if the U.S. appeal is successful they don’t care.
Glen: Well I think this is the luxury of being in a legal world that doesn’t even exist. You can just pick your side that day, we are going to go with this, we are not going to go with that. It’s all based on bullshit. They just think they have a right to pick whichever side of the board suits them that day because there is no precedent, there is no legality to it.
Heather: Yep. Sun media poll. And CBC media poll. When you live in a country where the media puts up polls to decide whether or not a citizen should be allowed to have human rights, you know that’s a pretty special country right there. I mean I thought we had a legal system. I can’t really decide whether or not I like Glen is whether he is entitled to human rights or just be barred from the country for no particular reason. We are supposed to have laws. It’s like I said, when I say murder and people say “well that’s a grey area, not black and white,” no it’s not! There’s nothing grey about it, it’s a legal definition. We have black and white laws that we’re supposed to follow. But you know when you say they think they can get away with it, that’s because – it’s like in the U.S. state cables, they were watching us and we didn’t say boo.
Glen: Yep. We did what we were told.
Heather: We completely ignored the whole thing because it wasn’t pretty to look at. That’s actually a quote, “the competing joys of the all too brief Canadian summer” distracted us.
Glen: Well I mean I think this is just the overall effect from all the other cases of rendition under false circumstances. It’s just vendettas, false information, sooner or later everybody else got cut loose because they deserved to be loose, and yet there’s still never been an admission, there never will be an admission that they were wrong. It’s beyond them to even do that and that is something that was never a part of the Canadian system until the last 30 years. I mean think back to the Mulroney – Turner debate when Turner basically lost the election because he told the truth on national television. When Mulroney questioned him about the senate appointments. He said “I had no choice.” That lost him the election but he told the truth. That just doesn’t happen any more. And that’s probably why because the rest of them learned, look what happened to John Turner.
Heather: Well you know that documentary about Omar and the title of it, right? “You don’t like the truth.” That’s what he said to CSIS. He answered their questions and they just kept asking, you know they didn’t like the truth and Canadians don’t like the truth either. They would much much rather have CBC tell them they are wonderful and well thought of around the world than to have them tell them that they tortured a child and they continue to do so right now. If you want to know what a farce Omar’s trial was, on our site freeomar.ca, read his plea deal. Read the plea deal he was forced to sign to get out of Guantanamo. The prosecutor at the time, the defence, everybody has said this is the only place on earth where the only way you get out or stop the torture is by being convicted of being guilty of something. If you read the plea deal of what he had to agree to for his kangaroo court trial and all the evidence he wasn’t allowed to bring and the fact that he is now not allowed to say .. People who have left Guantanamo, we’ve all heard many times this statistic of how many recidivist Guantanamo detainees there are? Most people don’t ask what the U.S. considers recidivist. It includes everyone who ever says that anything bad happened to them at Guantanamo. That’s recidivism. If you talked about anything bad that happened to you or you say you signed your plea deal under duress and you didn’t really actually do anything.
Read his plea deal and you will understand just what a joke his trial was. He wasn’t allowed to bring any evidence. The U.S. was allowed to destroy evidence. The U.S. brought the most discredited expert witness psychiatrist instead of the two unbelievably well qualified psychiatrists that Omar spent hundreds of hours with they brought in ths man who .. like I said, the judge said he would have been more accurate if he had used a ouiji board. He is an international joke. There is again on the site there is something called Dr. Sageman on Welnar’s testimony that talks about the witness that the U.S. brought. It’s well worth reading because Dr. Sageman is brilliant and he had quite a cutting critique.
OVERTIME: Selections only.
Heather: We wanted Canadians to try to get statements from their MPs because it’s Canadian history and we don’t want it to be changed. I wrote one article where I just spread sheeted the Toronto Star coverage of Omar Khadr frm 2010 to 2012. I just looked at keywords and counted how many times they said ‘torture’, how many times they said ‘murder’, ‘al qaeda’, ‘terrorist’, you know all these words, good and bad and it’s pretty phenomenal. It really ought to be done for all Canadian media. Canadians in the future deserve to see how this existed.
Heather: One of the initiatives we tried to do that kind of flopped because no one really did it was we wanted people to try and get, again for Canadian history, statements from each of the MPs. Current statements, not “Oh, I spoke in the past” but answer a couple questions about their position on Omar. To have them on record for our kids to look at. They are too much allowed to huddle in a mass and vote in a block and ignore things, or, as Trudeau told me, “Oh, I shouted out something on the floor.” Let’s have an official statement. If you look on the site and see the amount of politicians who have given their official position on Omar, it is ludicrously low. Romeo Dallaire, the Green Party, almost nobody else. And yes, I do know that Justin Trudeau said Omar should be entitled to the same rights as other Canadians, he said that after Omar was brought home.
One of the things I did with the Toronto Star, I looked at all their coverage from his trial date up to 2012. I am a huge fan of data not opinions, let’s just look at what actually happened in the data for the historical record, for Canadians, to look at what the media did. ‘Toronto Star coverage of Omar Khadr since his trial week, October 25, 2010.’ In Canada we are so used to saying Sun media is horrible, the rest are good. Certainly they know how to use semi-colons and they are literate. In Canada, for those who don’t know, the reason I picked the Toronto Star is they are the ones who are held up as being very pro-Omar Khadr. This is a lefty newspaper you go to if you want to get a good human rights view, it’s not Sun media or anyone like that. And they are always accused of being pro-Omar. They are guided by the Atkinson principles which say they are supposed to be guided by social justice and individual and civil liberties, and they are supposed to be the experts on Omar Khadr.
The word ‘convicted’ appears, completely uncontested 34 times in 24 articles. War crimes, which we went over, do not exist. ‘War crimes and ‘war criminal’ appear 40 times as factual detail. The plea deal – we didn’t even go over the plea deal. It’s an abomination and he signed it after eight years of torture, after every single one of his lawyers said “Please, please sign it.”
Omar for eight years refused to sign a plea deal because he said “What would Canadians think of me?” You ask any of his defence lawyers and that’s true, Omar refused through eight years of hell to sign a plea deal and he eventually signed it and the Star rubs that in his face 40 times in 24 articles, that he signed a plea deal. He ‘pled guilty’, ‘admitted’, ‘confessed’, for all the world as though this is a normal court and normal circumstances. There is absolutely no evidence that he killed somebody and as we went over, even if he did kill somebody the word murder is not appropriate, but the Star uses the words ‘murder’ and ‘killer’ 50 times in 24 articles. They used ‘jihad’ 8 times; he was a 15 year old boy, he has never said any such thing. They used ‘al-Qaeda’ 25 times in 24 articles. ‘Terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ 30 times.
There’s a really interesting renaming right after the so-called trial too. The U.S. renamed everything in the first place but that wasn’t bad enough for CBC and the Toronto Star. They called the Guantanamo Military Commission a U.S. war crimes tribunal. What the Pentagon called ‘punitive post-conviction confinement’, because apparently being tortured and in solitary for years wasn’t punitive, the Star renamed it to ‘restrictive post-conviction custody’.
In these 24 articles, ‘torture’ appeared 3 times, once only in naming the UN Committee Against Torture. The UN Committee Against Torture criticized the Canadian government for delaying Omar’s return and specifically recommended that Canada, and the Star is Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, they recommended that Canada’s media raise awareness of the Convention Against Torture requirements among judges and members of the public. But when talking about Omar, the word ‘torture’ is used only twice to refer to Omar in 24 articles in our largest circulation newspaper.
This is Canada’s supposedly most friendly paper. I didn’t go after the Sun here or some random blog, this is the largest circulation paper in Canada and the one supposedly most friendly to Omar and this is what the coverage has been like. If Canadians want to know who’s behind this, who’s been controlling the message and shaping the opinions, ask your MPs for their opinion, ask them to put it in black and white and sign their names to it so we can put it on our site, and help me spreadsheet this stuff. Go through and start spreadsheeting the words that have been used around this case and start challenging the media when they say things that are absolute flat out lies.
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).
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.
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 fundraisingcampaigns 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
This week, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews requested unredacted copies of videos and interviews that psychiatrists Michael Welner and Alan Hopewell conducted with Khadr at Guantanamo Bay to determine his mental state. Besides the fact that Canada has now had one decade to determine Khadr’s mental state, the implication of the request is that Canada’s new prisons are not equipped to defend against an inmate about whom professional prosecution witness Welner said “future risk is actually more in a capacity to inspire” than to do violence himself. But that is not the most incredible aspect of this latest stalling tactic. Toews is requesting evidence from one of the most widely derided professional witnesses of our time, a man accused of falsifying his own academic credentials under oath, and a man who based his findings not on research, but on the incendiary claims of a xenophobic Danish writer who claims among other things that “Massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1.400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.”
The prosecutors informed the defense that they had consulted with the Convening Authority and, if the defense filed to have Welner’s testimony withdrawn, the prosecutors had the Convening Authority’s permission to withdraw from the pretrial agreement. The defense then agreed to only object orally. The prosecutors countered that if they objected orally, they would still withdraw. The defense attempted to negotiate further, the prosecutors refused. “Faced with the immediate prospect of the Government withdrawing from the pretrial agreement and with no time to make any further record” the defense agreed to it all. The defense now maintains that the government relied on witness Dr. Welner’s testimony to “intimidate the sentencing panel” and “wrongly shielded Dr. Welner’s testimony from the standards of admissibility clearly defined by the Supreme Court and the Military Commission Rules of Evidence.”
Dr. Marc Sageman is an acclaimed psychologist with extensive background into terrorism and political violence who was prevented from testifying at Omar Khadr’s trial. Among other things, he points out that the prosecution witness falsified his academic credentials: Dr. Sageman letter.
There is no research that comes to the conclusions Welner insists on in Omar Khadr’s case, so he relied on the opinions in this book by Nicolai Sennels’ instead. Except he doesn’t read Danish and there is no translation, so he couldn’t really read it. Book review: Appendix A.
In an initial phone call, Dr. Sageman told Omar’s defense, “Dr. Welner’s proposed testimony and conclusions are not valid; Dr. Welner does not have a baseline to make anything more than a guess; and Dr. Welner’s sample size is Omar Khadr.” In a following letter, provided pro bono, Sageman writes, “… as an internationally recognized expert in terrorism and counter-terrorism, I know of no published study that addresses the issue of dangerousness in terrorists. This piqued my curiousity about the basis of Dr. Welner’s “professional” opinion at testimony. … His c.v. mentioned that he took a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991-1992. I was at the University of Pennsylvania at the time and the university did not have a forensic psychiatry fellowship at the time. … he did not do a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania as he testified under oath … Indeed, his c.v. shows that at the time, 1991-1992, he engaged in a full time residency in psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City.
Regarding Welner’s testimony, Sageman writes, “the interview lacks the usual ethical warning to a defendant that the defendant has the right to not answer questions and that there is no confidentiality between the expert for the prosecution and the defendant. The interview did not ask for any past psychiatric history and did not review potential psychiatric symptoms to assess the mental health of the defendant that could have a bearing in the assessment. Later, Dr. Welner claims that religiosity is correlated to dangerousness – a claim that is in fact without foundation – but he never probed the defendant’s level of religious understanding, beliefs and piety.”
Dr. Sageman then goes on for pages, devastating the credibility of the background sources Dr. Welner relied upon for his authorities. In Dr. Sageman’s opinion, Dr. Welner is very articulate and quite persuasive on the stand, mostly because he conveys very positive and forceful opinions to a jury. He concluded that Dr. Welner displayed this trait in this case. If the jury was indeed swayed by Dr. Welner, which seems unavoidable since he was the star witness, Dr. Sageman’s testimony should have made a very significant difference. It is hopefully unlikely that a judge would have allowed testimony from a witness who falsified their background and relied on completely unscientific methods and misunderstood or unreliable authorities. If he had, surely the jury would have agreed, given the proper rebuttal from the defense, with judge Colonel Parrish who the defense quote as stating, “Dr. Welner would have been as likely to be accurate if he used a Ouija board.”
In a case like Omar Khadr’s, where one full decade of complicated legal evidence and misinformation have combined to make a quick assessment of the facts impossible for the average Canadian, the tone of everyday mainstream media coverage is all important. Every quick article updating news on the case also serves as an opportunity to present a simple sketch of Khadr.
This is the first installment of what will be a very large spreadsheet charting coverage of Omar Khadr for the last ten years. Subjective keywords with emotional impact are tallied by article. The spreadsheet can then be sorted, by date, author, media outlet etc, to get a picture of where Canadian mainstream media has stood on this debate and how well they have attempted to show different points of view or just stick to accurate facts. The only media we are charting are the respected mainstream outlets with the greatest distribution and trust; no blogs and not Sun Media.
No, a word count does not tell everything; sometimes a word is used when the writer is arguing against its use or because it is necessary to a certain story. More often however, these words are slipped in as insidious descriptors, in article after article, until the person who could easily have been ‘Canadian child torture victim Omar Khadr’ is forever in the public memory as ‘convicted war criminal Omar Khadr’. Taken overall, the words show the context in which Omar’s name is mentioned, the popular story being framed around him.
Unfortunately, there is almost no diversity of message in Canada’s one voice mainstream media which uses a faux debate over Omar’s return to drum the identical message about Omar from almost every single outlet. The Toronto Star is Canada’s highest-circulation newspaper, and the one popularly depicted as the most liberal, Omar Khadr supportive paper. The paper is meant to be guided by the six Atkinson Principles which include ‘social justice’ and ‘individual and civil liberties’. It’s primary reporter on the Khadr case wrote a popular book about the case, and the reporting is widely relied on by liberal minded Canadians to give a fair or favourable depiction of Omar Khadr.
The spreadsheet so far includes all of the Star coverage since the trial week, beginning in October 25, 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.
One third of the 24 articles paint a negative image right from the title or photo caption, and nine of them from the first sentence. (The article word count includes the title and photo captions as well, and the caption writers are often much more negative than the article writers.) The US renaming conventions were apparently not Orwellian enough for the Star caption editor, who renamed the Guantanamo military commission a “US war crimes tribunal” and post trial jail time, which the Pentagon has named ‘punitive post conviction confinement’ becomes the softer “restrictive post-conviction custody” in the Star.
Of the 24 articles, 16 are by Michelle Shephard, who recently won an award from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association “to celebrate her contribution to the better knowledge for Canadians on issues about civil liberties, the repercussion of Sept. 11 and Omar Khadr.” Shephard managed to use‘convicted’ 24 times, ‘war crime(s)/criminal’ 30 times, ‘pleaded guilty/admitted/confessed’ 32 times, and‘murder/killer’ an amazing 43 times in 16 articles. This feat was made possible by referring to the subject nearly always as some variation of “convicted war criminal Omar Khadr, who pleaded guilty to five war crimes including murder,” a more subtle but far more damaging attack than the Sun Media’s“Killer Khadr” headings. The word ‘medic’ appears 6 times since the trial, always from Michelle Shephard (the special forces fighter Omar is accused of killing was not acting as a medic). In Shephard’s reporting since and during the trial, there is one thoughtful analysis of the case in which the words used are part of a larger balanced view; all the rest of the articles are simply news, and the words are descriptors being applied as factual detail.
While Colin Perkel’s two articles have the worst statistics, they do attempt to include some nuance from both sides, and incorporate sentences such as “Critics of the military commissions have long held that the charge of murder in violation of the rule of war — the most serious conviction against Khadr — has no basis under international law. They have also been fiercely critical of prosecuting Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time of his crimes.” This does not seem sufficient in an article which used the phrase “five war crimes” three times in one article, and it is unclear why these facts need to be presented as the opinion of ‘critics’ when they are the opinion of international law, but it is something.
Omar’s first interrogator, when he had bullet wounds the size of fists in his chest and eyes wounded by shrapnel, was convicted murderer Joshua Claus who is mentioned once (by Shephard); Bagram is never mentioned, Geneva Conventions also never. ‘Torture’ appears a mere three times, once in the name of the UN Committee Against Torture and never referring specifically to what happened to Omar.
‘Child’ appears 28 times (excluding the very high number of mentions of children of US special forces fighters), but 8 of the mentions appear in a very uninformed and backhanding article by Craig and Marc Kielburger which warns of dire consequences since Omar has not been ‘rehabilitated’ and assumes his guilt as a child soldier.
So this, in the Canadian media, is as good as it gets for Omar, the paper with the reputation of standing up for Omar’s rights and the reporter who has won awards for getting the truth out about his case. There has not been one article in the Star since the trial that discussed the problems with the evidence, the court, the crimes, the witnesses or the plea deal. The opinions of Omar’s three highly accredited psychologists, Dr. Marc Sageman, Dr. Stephen Xenakis, and Dr. Katherine Porterfield are not mentioned, and the highly suspect credentials of dissenting psychiatrist Welner are not questioned.
While a random al Qaeda story was mined salaciously for a 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.
While every article lately carefully mentions opposition to Omar’s return, none have told Canadians about the terrifying stalking of Omar’s grandparents by both media and racist hate groups. Despite the opposition to Omar’s return being openly funded by and created by the Jewish Defense League and theHindu Advocacy Group, who have a “multi faith coalition” with each other and the Christian Heritage Party, none are mentioned by name. The JDL is the Canadian chapter of a US group which is on theFBI terrorist watch list; in 1994 a US member killed 29 Palestinians at prayer, and in 2011 the RCMPlaunched 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. The Star does not point out this irony to Canadians, even though it would certainly seem to be essential information in stories that report on the ‘opposition groups’. It would also surely be an essential message for public safety that racist extremists are openly targeting seniors at their homes in Toronto.
Because of the abhorrent plea deal he was forced to sign, Omar cannot sue any of the Canadian media for libel. This leaves only the court of public opinion to stop the bullying and false coverage of this case. Please help us to correct the public record with the facts of this case and stop the insidious lies.
Coming soon … all the rest of the mainstream Canadian media.
UPDATE: Here is an April 18, 2011 article that does not appear in the Star’s Khadr archives. In this article Michelle Shephard reported Khadr’s appeal for clemency (along with the obligatory “Khadr pleaded guilty to committing five war crimes in Afghanistan in 2002, admitting at the age of 15 he trained with Al Qaeda and threw a grenade that fatally wounded U.S. commando and medicChristopher Speer.”). For this, Welner threatened to sue the Star. “Welner also emailed the Star a three-page notice of intent to sue for defamation concerning articles published last October after a Star journalist asked him to respond to Sageman’s letter.” As anyone who questions, writes about or is in any way connected to Guantanamo can attest, threats and lawsuits are part of every story that attempts to tell the truth.
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.