Upholding the rights of children: apologizing to Omar Khadr is the right thing to do ~ Opinion

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News broke this week that Ottawa is set to apologize to former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Omar Khadr, and pay him a settlement of $10.5 million. Mr. Khadr, a Canadian, was captured by U.S. forces following a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan which resulted in the death of a U.S. soldier. At the time of his capture it was reported that the 15-year-old Khadr was unconscious and had suffered serious injuries during the fighting. While in custody, he confessed to killing the U.S. soldier, however, there have been strong allegations that the confession was secured under extreme duress.

Like most Canadians, I don’t know Mr. Khadr personally, nor did I know him as a boy or his family in 2001/2002 when they went to Afghanistan. I mourn the loss of anyone in war, soldiers, other combatants or civilians and feel deeply for their families. Perhaps because I am a veteran who served for nearly 21 years in the Canadian Forces, this type of loss is especially close to my heart. And perhaps this is the reason that I do not understand some of the outrage and anger that has been expressed around this announcement. The situation was, as described in recent news articles, something that happened in war. Each side fighting for deeply held belief systems and values. I will not debate the validity of either side in what has became known as the “War on Terror” as that is not the issue that surrounds the compensation.

As defined by the laws that I and others have so proudly defended, Mr. Khadr was a child at the time of the firefight. If Canada was complicit in the subsequent ill treatment and torture of a 15-year-old child then we need to own up to our actions or inactions. Is the compensation appropriate? I am sure there has been significant thought given to this based on Canadian legislation and case law. Frankly, I am glad that I did not have to make the decision regarding the appropriate dollar amount attached to the torture of a child.

There are reasons why there are international treaties and conventions regarding child soldiers, not the least of which is the ability of others to pressure and sway children who are not yet legally able make decisions regarding even their own lives. If you have known or know any 15 year-olds, give it some thought.

Under the Geneva Convention of 1949, child soldiers were defined as someone under the age of 15. Since then there have been a number of international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where the definition of a child has been changed to any human being under the age of 18. Canada and Afghanistan both became signatories in 1990 and the U.S. in 1995.

A commonly held definition of child soldier is any child under the age of 18 who is recruited by a state or non-state armed group and used as a fighter, cook, suicide bomber, human shield, messenger, spy, or for sexual purposes. Clearly the 15-year-old Omar Khadr fits this definition.

The UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict wrote in 2010 that Khadr represents the “classic child soldier narrative: recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand”, and suggested that Khadr be released into a rehabilitation program. Omar Khadr remained in Guantanamo Bay and the Canadian government continued to face international criticism for their stonewalling of his repatriation.

As for some of the comments I have read about Mr. Khadr’s alleged behavior over the many years of incarceration in Guantanamo Bay, I would suggest that these comments cannot be allowed to cloud our vision and forget our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As well, the reported compensation has been linked by some to other issues that face our government regarding compensation of our soldiers. I have a significant, and some might say vested, interest in the welfare of those who have and are serving, however, righting one wrong will in no way diminish the need to right others as well.

I strongly support the work of the UN and people like retired General Romeo Dallaire in their efforts to end the use of child soldiers. In my more recent work with UN humanitarian organizations, I, like General Dallaire, have looked down the barrel of an AK-47 in the hands of a frightened child and weighed that child’s ability to comprehend the consequences of his actions. I do not believe we should ever make convenient exceptions when it comes to the definition of a child soldier, or the treatment of children in armed conflicts.

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Nancy Osborne has seen some terrible things throughout her military career and during her time with the United Nations as a security specialist. Serving in the Security Branch of the Canadian military, Osborne enlisted as a Private and retired as a Major 21 years later. She was honoured with a CD (the post-nominal letters for the Canadian Forces Decoration) and is recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation in recognition of a significant contribution to Canada as well as a Commander’s Commendation. Following retirement, Nancy was recruited in 2002 by the United Nations as one of the first women ever deployed as a security risk adviser in the support of UN humanitarian operations in high threat environments. In 2010, Nancy was appointed as a security manager at UNICEF Headquarters in New York. From there she managed global emergencies affecting UNICEF staff and provided extended surge support in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti and South Sudan. When Nancy retired she thought that it would be a shame not to use all of that training so she launched a not-for-profit called I Got This as a platform for workshops called Unlocking Your Instincts for women.

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11 Comments

  1. Karen Wehrstein on

    Well thought-out and well-written opinion from someone with extensive relevant expertise. Thanks, Nancy and kudos to Huntsville Doppler for posting it. If every media outlet kept to such standards at all times with opinion pieces, this would be a better world.

  2. Bill Beatty on

    Apologizing to someone who might very well have killed more than one human being in the cause of terrorism is not the right thing to do. When children behave like children then they are entitled to all the rights and protections we in this civilized country can give them. When they leave our country to engage in violent acts and killing, they lose those rights. This was not a child captured by terrorists and forced to fight on threat of harm to he or his family but a” child ” who went to a foreign land to fight at his father’s side. His brothers chose not to do so. His family needs to apologize for allowing his actions. Putting a blanket statement out there that says people of a certain age are not responsible for their actions does nothing but encourage more violent acts that are excused by so called experts!

  3. Joy Salmon Moon on

    Omar Khadr was 10 years old when his father took him from Canada to Afghanistan. A ten year old is a child, influenced in every way by adults. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that his rights as a Canadian citizen were violated. Many prisoners at Guantanamo were returned to their home countries to be tried under their countries’ laws. I am ashamed that Canada refused to do so for so long. Bravo to the Supreme Court for finally putting an end to this story.

  4. Jan Provence on

    While I feel saddened that a 15 year old was used by his own family so poorly and that when under their care and supervision was forced to or encouraged to commit such a terrible crime, I cannot help but feel outraged that it will cost me a Canadian tax payer so much money.

    This young man does deserve our compassion and forgiveness and even a fresh start in this great country. However I strongly object to this proposed compensation. There is nothing logical or rational in the thought process of providing this kind of settlement when we are not offering compensation to the widow of the man he and fellow terrorists brutally murdered.

    I understand that the way in which he was interrogated by Canadian authorities was questionable, BUT to reward this man after his involvement in this act of terrorism is simply wrong. Anyone who has been involved in such heinous behavior should not expect to have all the rights and freedoms of our Canadian laws. He has already benefited hugely because of his Canadian citizenship. He has been taken back into our country, he currently lives in peace and relative freedom,

    He was injured in the battle and it was the allies that tended to his wounds and returned him to health….something that could not have happened in his own camp at that time. The men and women who served with his victim had to dress his wounds and nurse him back to health. He has been given his life and as he is only 30 now, he has plenty of time to build a future without a handout from taxpayers. That is a future that Sergeant Christopher James Speer did not have and his wife and two children Taryn and Tanner could not share.

    Our apologies yes, our sympathies for an horrific childhood yes, our money no as far as this tax payer is concerned.

  5. Wayne Arbeau on

    What a horrible, despicable way to insult our brave Canadian soldiers who fought and died or were terribly wounded fighting these very people in that craphole of a country. To call this a Canadian is an affront to Canadians, this family came to Canada for the sole purpose of securing those precious documents called Canadian Citizenship and Canadian Passports. They obviously never intended to stay here but wanted the protections provided to Canadians. Atrocious!

  6. Rob Millman on

    I cannot understand this “tempest in a teapot” regarding Mr. Kadhr, the Prime Minister’s apology, and the accompanying compensation. I would challenge anybody criticizing the resolution of this black mark on our international reputation to survive a comparable length of incarceration in Guantanamo Bay.

    How many letters would there be if Prime Minister Harper had done his duty and behaved similarly? It is so easy to comment from our comfortable seats in Canada: this child/man was tortured for a crime which he may well did not commit. $10.5 million for a 30-year-old, who is virtually unemployable in Canada; and unlikely to return to Afghanistan, is imminently fair.

  7. Michael A. Stickland on

    Nicely written Nancy . But what about money? Why is it money and war or war and money seem to still be considered the answer to social issues and injustices?

    I wonder if the folks that made the decisions that allowed this young man to be mistreated ;will they come forward and take responsibility for their decisions and take ownership of the consequences ood this event?

    To me it just seems again like so much political jiberish. We as working folks have to take ownership of our decisions on a daily basis. Do you really think it is right to have the Canadian taxpayers dig into their thin pockets for a payment of guilt?

    Yours in Conversation:
    Kind Regards
    Michael A Stickland

  8. Mr. Trudeau’s actions are an affront to the memory of Christopher Speer, to Tabitha Speer and her children, to Layne Morris, to our U.S. allies, and to all men and women in uniform. This payout was a cynical subversion of Canadian principles. Mr. Trudeau made Omar Khadr a millionaire, and he didn’t have to.

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