Omar Khadr lay on the ground, blinded in one eye and shot twice through the back, asking the American soldiers to kill him off. One of the U.S. officers testified later that he commanded one of his men to grant the boy's wish, only to be stopped by a Delta Force officer who urged them to give him medical attention. Khadr would spend three more months in Afghanistan in critical condition before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. During that wait he was interrogated 40 times for up to eight hours a day. It's likely that during such sessions he wished his desire of being killed off would have been granted.
That was 10 years ago, when Khadr was only 15 years of age. Furthermore, he possessed Canadian citizenship, which greatly complicated the issue. As such, and by international protocol, he was viewed as a minor and a child soldier. Despite heavy international pressure to treat him as such, both Canadian and American governments drew him through a process of legal proceedings as though he were an adult combatant. Officials from the United Nations child soldiers program, Amnesty International, UNICEF, the Canadian Bar Association, and even prominent U.S. military officials, urged that he be treated as a minor and returned to Canada. Such pleas were turned down in all the confusion surrounding the Afghanistan war.
After intense interrogation at Guantanamo, Khadr pleaded guilty in a pre-trial agreement to the murder by grenade of an American soldier with the strong possibility of being returned back to Canada after one year to serve out the rest of his term as a Canadian citizen. It didn't happen, and to this day Omar Khadr remains the only Western citizen incarcerated at Guantanamo.
The details around the charges laid against the 15-year-old remain murky at best, but after almost a decade new efforts are being made to return him to Canada. There had been a diplomatic agreement (not a legal one) that he would be returned, but the Canadian government has yet to respect it, despite urgings from American officials. Why the delay?
Two years ago, Canadian senator General Romeo Dallaire asked me to stop by his office for a discussion.
"I'm putting forward a bill in the Senate, Glen, urging the Canadian government to offer no aid or support to any country the utilizes child soldiers. I think I can get it through, but I need someone on the House side of Parliament to champion it. You are respected over there and I'd like to partner with you to get it passed into law. You interested?"
Of course I was and we began working on the legislation right away. But almost immediately we began sensing some pushback. How could that be? It was a no-brainer. No Canadian citizen or their political representatives would condone the use of child soldiers anywhere in the world, so what was the problem? Eventually it emerged that the Harper government was reticent to support it because of Omar Khadr. It would be an admission that he was a child soldier, as already claimed by international experts, and they had no desire to bring him home.
The other parties in the House gave me immediate support, and numerous meetings and coffees later, a score of Conservatives voiced their agreement as well. Nevertheless they informed me that from somewhere deep in the caves of the Prime Minister's Office there was strong opposition to a bill that would have won Canada international honours and commendation. One of the great tragedies of the last election was that Dallaire's efforts were sidelined. One can only hope he brings them forward again, finds an adequate partner in the House, and eventually gains the support of the PMO.
Dallaire is right. As a Canadian citizen, a minor, and a child soldier, Omar Khadr deserved better from his country. Here's hoping that the famed senator begins his push once again to get his child soldier legislation up and running. For all the ado that took place with the KONY 2012 video, pertaining to Uganda's use of child soldiers, one wonders where those voices are now when such a clearly documented international case concerning Omar Khadr languishes through the lack of support from Stephen Harper's office.
This is Canada's chance to not only make things right concerning one of their own citizens, but to support a legislative initiative that could help restore our image on the world stage. There are numerous Conservative MPs and Senators who clearly support the effort. I know; I've spoken to them. If the PMO can't listen to the resounding voice of the world community, perhaps it can begin the process of listening to its own caucus.