Despite recent legal setbacks in Omar Khadr’s long struggle for justice, there is a growing wave of Canadian and international support from those who believe in his innocence, who are outraged at the gross injustice he has suffered and who demand his immediate release.
Equally encouraging are two voices from the U.S. military, Dr. Stephen Xenakis a retired Brigadier-General, and Sam Morison a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Defense, who recently travelled to Edmonton, where Khadr is currently detained in a maximum-security prison, to share their opinion that Khadr should be released.
Growing International Support
Throughout the decade-long legal battle for Khadr’s freedom, his Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, has single-handedly taken on the daunting financial burden and enormous emotional responsibility of the case. Earlier this fall the Free Omar Khadr Now Campaign launched an international fundraising campaign to assist with Khadr’s legal expenses.
The on-going campaign has recently reached the $23,000 mark -- just a drop in the bucket of what is needed to cover the cost of legal challenges ahead. Donations, large and small, from nine Canadian provinces, the U.S., Holland, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia and the United Arab Emirates indicate that despite a decade of demonization by the U.S. and Canadian government officials, there is global recognition of the unforgivable mistreatment and abuse Khadr has suffered.
Enclosed with many donations are words that reflect the sentiments of many of Khadr's supporters:
"I’m now 85 years old and hope I can live long enough to see Omar free and Harper defeated."
"Dear Mr. Edney, as a once proud Canadian, I am absolutely appalled by the inhumane treatment our federal government has inflicted upon Omar Khadr. I have followed his cause with great interest over the years and can see that his fight is not over. Please accept my donation and keep up the good work on Omar’s behalf. Thank you for all you’ve done."
"Thank you Mr. Edney for your actions to support the human rights of an abused Canadian against the ideological hatred of the strange right-wing cancer that has taken over this country."
Voices from the U.S. military
Last month, Stephen Xenakis, a retired U.S. Brigadier-General, spoke to an Edmonton audience about his relationship with Khadr, based on hundreds of hours of interviews during his decade at Guantanamo.
Xenakis recounted his first visit to the U.S. military prison: "It’s hard to convey how desolate the place is…you feel that somehow souls have been hijacked."
Xenakis, now an anti-torture activist, teared up when discussing his first meeting with Khadr:
I cannot, at all, wrestle with what needs to be done here…without becoming emotional to my core. I expected to meet a terrorist. I walk in and here is absolutely one of the gentlest, most decent men I have ever met in my entire life…There has not been an instant where I have felt this man has been other than what he presents himself to be, and how he has tried in the most humane, honest and thoughtful way to engage me and everybody else who has come into his life.
Xenakis doesn’t believe that Khadr, because of serious injuries and the physical challenges involved, could possibly have thrown the grenade which killed the U.S. Special Forces soldier. Khadr, according to Xenakis, became the foil for the U.S. "war on terror" where fear and manipulation were used to go "and get every Muslim out there."
Earlier this month, before an audience at King’s College, Edmonton, Sam Morison a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Defence outlined the legal arguments in an appeal, recently submitted, to have Khadr’s "convictions" overturned by the U.S. Military Commission Review Court (MCRC).
Like Xenakis, Morison believes in Khadr’s innocence and stated that there is no forensic evidence to support the claim that a 15 year old Omar was responsible for a U.S. soldier’s death.
In fact, Morison explained, Khadr himself was the victim of a war crime. After the battle, heavily wounded and lying face down in a prone position, Omar was shot twice in the back at point blank by a U.S. soldier.
Not only was Khadr denied fundamental rights provided by international laws to protect children in armed conflict and rights provided by the Canadian charter, he was tortured and as Morison pointed out, was never judged by the standards that would apply in a Canadian court.
To the audience, Morison put forth the question: "If U.S. citizens are protected from military commission hearings why should it be an appropriate forum for citizens of Canada?… I believe the U.S. is trying to impose a form of martial law on the entire world. Why should the international community accept that?"
According to Morison, Khadr was neither charged with, nor pled guilty to any conduct for which he could be tried by a Military Commission. "The U.S. government has already conceded this point…I think it is surprising after all these years, all the ink that’s been spilled and all the heartache that we’ve seen, how weak the government’s case actually is -- which is why they didn’t want me to file this appeal in the first place."
Last week Morison’s suspicions were proved right.
Rather than proceed with the appeal -- as it has for other Guantanamo appeals where the convictions were overturned -- the MCMC, in an unprecedented ruling, ordered that it must first determine whether it has the authority to even hear the appeal. The decision will indefinitely postpone the appeal process and may ensure Khadr will remain in prison for another five years -- the remainder of his sentence.
Next steps to justice
Despite setbacks, the march for justice moves on.
Next steps include an appeal of an Edmonton judge’s ruling which denied Khadr’s request for transfer to a provincial prison, and a civil case claiming the Canadian government conspired with U.S. authorities to ensure a guilty plea in Khadr’s 2010 sham military commission hearing.
Dennis Edney continues his relentless battle, Omar begins his 12th year of detention and an international call for justice demands his immediate release.
Kathleen Copps is a retired B.C. teacher and member of the Free Omar Khadr Now Campaign.
Dennis Edney will be giving a talk, The Omar Khadr Case: A Reality Check, on Thursday December 5 in Vancouver.
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