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The Toronto Star

Khadr and Harper; Bush and the Ayatollahs

Haroon Siddiqui

In thinking about the Omar Khadr case -- which evinces strong emotions, from both those who want him brought home to be tried in a Canadian court and those who would rather let him be in Guantanamo Bay -- it is useful to consider the following:

• The issue is not how evil Khadr or his family is but rather the Canadian values at stake.

Should Canadians care that he's the last Westerner left at Gitmo?

Why is it that other nations, notably Britain and Australia, lobbied Washington and got their citizens repatriated, but we won't?

Is that because we think Gitmo is not as bad as portrayed? Or even if it is, do we have more confidence in the discredited American military trials than others do, including a growing number of Americans?

The answers will have far more to do with us than with Khadr or his dysfunctional family.

• Canada was the first to sign the treaty on child soldiers. The Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for captured fighters under 18 to be kept separate from adult combatants and then rehabilitated into society. Refusing to practise what we preach will erode our credibility in speaking out against some notorious army or militia using, and abusing, child soldiers.

Stephen Harper's "Do what I say, not what I do" creed can also be seen in his position on Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe's sabotaging of democracy should draw not just condemnation but also sanctions.

However, Harper's proclamations, like those of George W. Bush and others, ring hollow given that Canada took the lead, and the U.S. and others followed, in actively undermining the democratic will of the Palestinian people as expressed in the 2006 elections, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Mugabe clubs his opponents; Harper, Bush et al. starve theirs.

This is not to equate Harper and Bush with the criminal Mugabe, but it's hard to ignore the parallels.

Hypocrisy also surrounds the American approach to Tehran's nuclear program, a policy heartily endorsed by Harper.

Israel, India and Pakistan have been rewarded for making bombs on the sly by staying out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

North Korea, which threw out international inspectors, pulled out of the treaty and made a bomb, was rewarded with multi-party talks and food aid, and had its name removed from the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism.

On the other hand, Iran has remained in the treaty, allowed international inspections and been certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as not having diverted any declared nuclear material toward a bomb. Though the agency has no information to the contrary, its only doubt is over whether or not Iran has some undeclared nuclear material.

Yet Iran has been demonized, subjected to Security Council sanctions, threatened with war and told that the U.S. wouldn't talk until it stopped enriching uranium.

Iran refused to blink.

So the U.S. has. The Bush administration (besieged on every other front - the economy, Iraq and Afghanistan) sent a senior official to Geneva yesterday to join Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China for talks with Iran.

Washington maintained the fiction that William Burns was there not to negotiate but only to listen. Iranians pretended that they were not talking to the Great Satan either.

But few were fooled. Engagement with Iran, which Europe and Barack Obama have advocated, has begun. Unless the neo-cons in the Bush administration derail the talks to facilitate the bombing of Iran, negotiations are indeed underway. This is welcome.

However, there's an irony. When such talks were first proposed but rejected by Bush, Iran had 20 centrifuges spinning uranium. Now it has 3,500. And whereas North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear program, Iran is not likely to.

Such is the price of Bush's ideological rigidity -- and incompetence.

Haroon Siddiqui writes on Thursday and Sunday.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2008

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