Will we ever know what happened?

July 30, 2014   ·   0 Comments

THE INCIDENT in far-off Afghanistan took place exactly 12 years ago this week, on July 27, 2002.

It was on a battlefield during an undeclared war between Al Quaeda-supported forces of the Taliban, until recently the country’s rulers, and members of the Afghanistan and United States armies. When it ended, most of the combatants were dead or wounded, among them a 15-year-old Canadian, Omar Khadr.

Although badly wounded, the teenager made a full recovery and spent the next 10 years at the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba before agreeing to plead guilty to murder and several war crimes in exchange for a plea-bargained eight years in prison, most of which would be spent in Canada.

Although he was eligible to seek parole in mid-2013, he remains in prison at a medium-security Bowden Institution in central Alberta, far from his Toronto family, where he is apparently able to secure a belated education.

Although the Alberta Court of Appeal has ordered his transfer to a provincial jail, that order is being stayed pending a bid by the federal government to have the ruling reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

And in these unique circumstances, Mr. Khadr, now 27, is trying to win permission to be interviewed by professional journalists.

One might think such a request would be quickly approved, since it would bear no resemblance to one made by the likes of serial killers Paul Bernardo and the late Clifford Olson. After all, they had both been given fair trials and the public knew at least most of the gory details of their crimes.

But that’s far from the case with Mr. Khadr, the allegations against him having never been tested in any court – not even the U.S. military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay.

All we know for a fact is that he was present on the battlefield, that his late father was a key supporter of Al Qaeda and that someone threw a grenade that killed U.S. Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer.

Thus far, the best we have from the only child soldier convicted of a war crime since at least the Second World War is in a statement of claim filed in 2013 as part of $20-million civil suit against the federal government. In it, he deposes: “I have no memory at all of that day or anything at all about a grenade being thrown at any U.S. soldiers”; that the plea agreement was “constructed by the U.S. government in its entirety,” and that he had signed it only to escape “continued abuse and torture” at Guantanamo Bay.

One might have thought that in the circumstances the Harper government would have welcomed an opportunity for journalists to test this statement, particularly if it could be established that the reporters would include someone from Sun Media, which continues to portray Mr. Khadr as an unreformed terrorist.

Meanwhile, Mr. Khadr’s lawyers are about to try something else that would remove any obstacle to a full-fledged press conference.

Edmonton lawyer Dennis Edney says he may apply to a youth court judge for the inmate’s release from custody and doesn’t believe the stay of the appeal court’s ruling will affect that request.

“Omar Khadr is a wonderful candidate,” he said. “He should not even be in a prison. He is someone who was a child soldier, who has been denied all types of international protections. He has been abused both by Canada and the United States over many years.”

Perhaps the only time we’ll ever learn the truth is when (and if) the civil action comes to trial.

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