Revisiting Khadr (Nov 1, 2007)

Choosing values

So let me see if I have this right.

The U.S. State Department has promised immunity from prosecution to a group of rogue American private security agents who were involved in an alleged massacre in west Baghdad’s Nisoor Square in September. Seventeen unarmed Iraqis were killed and two dozen others wounded in that attack, which witnesses say was unprovoked.

On the other hand, this same U.S. government remains bullishly determined to prosecute Canadian Omar Khadr for allegedly killing one U.S. soldier and wounding another in Afghanistan in 2002 during what was, in fact, a firefight between armed U.S. forces and almost-as-armed Afghani fighters.

This does not compute.

Or perhaps it does.

In the topsy turvy, enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, what-me-worry-about-reality world of American geopolitics, it must all seem perfectly reasonable.

And, of course, equally explicable in Stephen Harper’s Canada. We’ll get back to Harper.

Let’s start with the Americans. During the 1990s, the U.S. government supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in the process helping to pave the way for the Taliban takeover of that country. After 9/11, the Americans invaded Afghanistan in order to wipe out the now evil Taliban and kill or capture the satanic Osama — without ever once acknowledging their complicity in creating the mess in the first place.

The American government also supported — at the same time, incredibly — both Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran during their bloody, decade-long war with each other, only to turn on each of them (Saddam became the Butcher of Baghdad, Iran a member in good standing of George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil) when it became convenient to do so for American foreign policy purposes.

That shouldn’t surprise, I guess, considering that this administration still can’t comprehend the striking similarities between those brave American lads who drop bombs on unwary, unseen civilians from thousands of feet in the air and those cowardly terrorist insurgents who plant improvised explosive devices along roadsides to kill and maim unsuspecting American soldiers.

And that doesn’t understand the incongruity of disparagingly referring to non-Iraqi insurgents as “foreign fighters” while forgetting that that is how most Iraqis see them.

Not that we have much to brag about in the area of intellectual or moral consistency in our foreign policy.

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Dalai Lama, partly to exchange small talk and white Tibetan silk scarves — the one made for the Dalai Lama was embroidered with the Canadian maple leaf — and partly to make a political point with the Chinese government about Canada’s unhappiness with its well-documented human rights abuses in Tibet.

This week’s get together with Harper was the first time the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader has met formally with a Canadian prime minister in his own office.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jason Kenney, Harper’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, was quick to praise his boss.

“This prime minister, obviously, is someone who has placed a real emphasis on human rights and Canadian values in our foreign policy,” he told CTV.

Uh, yes… but what about Omar Khadr? Oh, him.

Khadr, who is a Canadian citizen, was just 15 when he was captured by the Americans in Afghanistan and whisked off to the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison compound where he has languished, without trial, for five years.

While other countries — including such steadfast American allies as Britain and Australia — have publicly protested the detentions of their citizens at Guantanamo and even managed to get them released or at least returned to their home countries, Canada has been worse than silent on Khadr.

The Harper government, in fact, is still fighting to prevent Khadr’s lawyers from seeing secret files it compiled when the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Department of Foreign Affairs interrogated Khadr — without a lawyer — shortly after he was captured. Canada passed on summaries of those sessions to the Americans.

Last May, the Federal Court of Appeal ordered the government to hand over to the court uncensored copies of all records relevant to the case, but Ottawa refused and is now appealing that decision.

One of the key issues, incredibly, will be whether Khadr, as a Canadian citizen, actually has the right to a fair trial under the Charter of Rights.

Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, says Ottawa’s refusal to disclose the information “shows the extent to which Canada has been prepared to violate the rule of law when it comes to Omar Khadr.”

A prime minister “who has placed a real emphasis on human rights and Canadian values in our foreign policy?”

Only, it seems, when it suits our other interests.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column, Kimber’s Nova Scotia, appears in The Sunday Daily News.

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