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The Vancouver Sun

Canada Should Uphold the Rule of Law, Even in Khadr Case


The video of Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents questioning 16-year-old Omar Khadr in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba revealed many things. As has been said, it gave Canadians a glimpse of a CSIS interrogation and of the CSIS's methods of gathering intelligence.

But it also revealed something much more troubling: That the Canadian government -- both Liberal and Conservative -- far from merely acquiescing in the United States' decision to hold enemy combatants without charges or legal counsel, has been an active participant in the process.

In the video, which was shot in 2003, not long after the U.S. opened the prison in Cuba, Khadr appears elated upon first meeting the agents, saying he had long requested a hearing with the Canadian government.

But after realizing that the agents were not there to help him, Khadr, who had been sleep-deprived before the interrogation, collapsed into sobs, saying what has variously been interpreted as "kill me," "help me" and "ya ummi" ("Oh mother" in Arabic).

The interrogation itself isn't particularly harsh, although the agents did play on Khadr's belief that they could help him. And they should have taken more seriously Khadr's claims that he was not receiving proper medical treatment for his injuries, and should have inquired into whether he had been tortured.

What is most troubling is not the content of the interrogation, but that it occurred at all. To begin with, the CSIS agents interrogated Khadr without first advising him of his right to counsel, a violation of his basic legal rights.

More fundamentally, while Canada is not directly responsible for the treatment -- or mistreatment -- of Khadr in Cuba, the government's willingness to participate in the process, and the agents' cavalier dismissal of Khadr's complaints, means that Canada bears some legal and moral responsibility for what happens in Guantanamo Bay.

This is in stark contrast to the governments of other western countries. Khadr is the only western national remaining in Guantanamo Bay, as all other countries with detainees in Cuba struck deals with the U.S. government to have them released.

Similarly, Khadr is the only remaining detainee who was a child when he was captured by U.S. forces. Introduced by his father to al-Qaida officials when he was 10, Khadr was captured at the age of 15 and brought to Guantanamo a few months later.

And Canada's support for the detention and military trial of child soldiers is not only in stark contrast to the attitude of other western countries, but to its international obligations and its express support for the rehabilitation of child soldiers.

Indeed, Canada was a leader in the drafting and adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires parties to the protocol to provide assistance for the physical and psychological recovery of child soldiers and to facilitate their social reintegration. Similarly, the "Paris Principles," which Canada supports, state that child soldiers "should be considered primarily as victims of offences against international law," and calls on states to emphasize restorative justice and social rehabilitation when dealing with underage combatants.

By actively supporting the detention and treatment of Khadr in Guantanamo, Canada, for all its high-minded talk about child soldiers, has made it clear that it is just that -- talk.

Faced with the spectre of a real child soldier, Canada seems content not only to ignore its commitment to children of war, but its commitment to protecting the fundamental legal rights that are due to all Canadians, regardless of age.

All Canadians ought to be concerned about this. If Canada is not genuinely committed to its domestic and international obligations, and to the rule of law, then no Canadian is safe.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

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