Washington, DC - Canadians are now being treated to the latest episode in the long-running Omar Khadr sob story. An Alberta appeals court has ruled (but the federal government plans to appeal) that Khadr should be transferred from a federal penitentiary to a provincial prison.
The technical argument is that the eight-year sentence imposed on Khadr after he pleaded guilty in U.S. court to five crimes, including murder, was a youth sentence in Canadian terms. Of course, nothing of the like was indicated in the U.S. disposition of the sentence. Indeed, his repatriation to Canada was implicitly dependent on Khadr serving his full sentence under conditions equivalent to those in the United States—not in a county court house jail/motel equivalent with early release. But Canadian disinterest in U.S. juridical practice is legendary.
Nevertheless, it is useful to review the bidding to remind Canadians of the Khadr reality—not the “poor little boy/child soldier” legend perpetrated by media driven by hostility to the United States and/or the Harper government.
Omar Khadr, killed a U.S. Army medic and severely wounded (blinded) another U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2001. Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time, was fighting as an illegal combatant for the Taliban when, rejecting calls to surrender, he grenaded the U.S. soldiers. Although wounded, U.S. forces effectively treated Khadr and subsequently transferred him to the Guantanamo prison facility, where in October 2010 he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison (not including time served). In October 2011, he requested transfer to Canada where he arrived at an Ontario prison in September 2012 (the Tory government not being enthusiastic about recovering this native son). He was transferred to an Edmonton facility in May 2013 after threats on his life. Following the current court decision, there is no indication how long he will be incarcerated in any Canadian “Club Fed” prison (federal or provincial) since, as he is no longer held in maximum security for his murder conviction, he reportedly was eligible for full parole in mid-year 2013.
Still, Canadians were and remain outraged, arguing that Khadr was a teenager at the time, “a child soldier” not responsible for his actions; was “tortured,” denied his rights as a Canadian, and should be released immediately regardless of his actions, having been imprisoned since 2001; etc. Repeatedly during his imprisonment, there were calls for the Canadian government to demand instant release. Throughout the process, Canadians made every effort to interfere in the U.S. legal process with their Federal Court of Canada declaring in April 2009 that Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated, and the government must demand his return to Canada. In January 2010, the Supreme Court agreed his rights were violated but didn’t require the government to act (managing to avoid direct interference in the executive branch’s right to conduct foreign affairs).
The Canadian fibrillations over Khadr reflect simple anti-Americanism and are a caricature of reality. Omar Khadr was the luckiest teenager in the world and remains one of the world’s most fortunate adults. Just how many times in combat does an enemy kill the unit medic and survive to be captured? Let alone that Khadr was operating outside any formal, national military framework and instead fighting de facto as part of a terrorist gang. That he was not summarily executed is apparently irrelevant to Canadians. These critics of U.S. action expend not a scintilla of concern for the widow and now fatherless children of the murdered medic (and the blinded U.S. soldier goes totally unmentioned). Somehow Khadr becomes the victim--as if Canadians should be able to travel the world, kill U.S. soldiers, and suffer no consequences (particularly if they do so under the age of 18). Recalling history and the individual capabilities of teenagers, an American might conclude that if Khadr was old enough to be throwing grenades, he was old enough to imprison.
Nevertheless, one can expect that upon release, he will be lauded as heroic finally escaping durance vile, free to write his book, and milk his miraculous survival into profit. Ultimately, nevertheless, there may be legal comedownance to his expectations of ghost-written profits. The widow of the murdered medic and the blinded former soldier are suing Khadr for upwards of $50 million. The suit was filed in a Utah district court, however, the 2012 Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act allows for collection of damages from U.S. judgments in Canadian courts.
Khadr is far from finished paying for his crimes.