"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Omar Khadr

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A friend provided me with an article from the National Observer, discussing the question what if Omar Khadr was not guilty. Since about 2012 I’ve had my perspective transformed, mostly through interactions with the King’s University where my daughter was a student. King’s took on the Khadr case as a social justice advocacy at great risk to the institution, because they saw a holy calling in advocating for “the other”, as Omar had been designated by successive Canadian governments.

As a soldier, my first reaction to the case was visceral and violent, and reflects what many Canadians are saying now. He was a terrorist, why would we afford him any special consideration. Since early 2012 as I’ve followed the case, there are things which have troubled me deeply as both a soldier and a Christian. My attitude shift is reflected in two prior blog posts. My first where I was starting to realize that branding Omar as ‘the other’ was something I had preached against related to other people, and I was caught in my own worlds and re-convicted that my visceral reaction had been inconsistent with what I was teaching to others. Physician, heal thyself!

I do understand the military perspective, and feel it myself. When you have had friends killed by the actions of the enemy (as I have), it is challenging to see the enemy as human. That, I would argue, is the call of anyone who is a person of faith, or even a secular humanist.

Discussing the other in My first post

Discussing a talk by Omar’s military psychiatrist that was convicting in Second post

The case is exceptionally complex and involves national and international legal provisions that are beyond understanding except for experts. If you are truly interested in engaging the facts of the case (as you should before pontificating on the subject publicly) there is a lot of reading to do, and all of it will be morally and ethically challenging. There’s also the reality that our Supreme Court has found in Omar’s favour several times.

I just recalled being interviewed about the work of some of the King’s faculty with Omar, but never read the article until just now.

“What I particularly value about Arlette in our community is her witness to gospel imperatives,” adds Rev. Matthew Oliver. “Whether you agree with the particular focus of her work with Omar or not, she presents a compelling icon of a Christian struggling to make a gospel-centred witness in the world.” 

That article is interesting – I was at the Diocesan synod when Arlette spoke, and she did get a standing ovation from most people. Several of the people at my table refused to stand, and said they could not support advocacy for a ‘terrorist’. What was really fascinating was several of those people were also advocates for performing same-sex marriages in our denomination. So a clear example of what I was outlining in the first blog post (above) about “the other”. It is clear that we are often guilty of welcoming some others, and condemning others dependent on our personal like or dislike of the person or the situation. That is normally called hypocrisy (If you argue the love of Christ welcomes all, as my table-mates did that day; but then condemn Omar Khadr as unworthy of advocacy or basic human rights…I would suggest that’s a dictionary definition of hypocrisy. The knife of acceptance in love cuts both ways, and resists attempts to apply human limits).

In response to a question I wrote the following, which I think briefly outlines where I’m sitting on the question today.

The whole Omar case is a mess of unlawful actions by governments. I’m friends with one of his support team and have met Dennis Edny and been at one of his presentations…and I hosted the US Army psychiatrist who treated Omar when he was here for a presentation. All to say I have a different perspective than the loudest Canadian voices (including most of my old military friends who are outraged). He also attended my daughter’s university for the last year (King’s University).

It’s pretty clear to me that the US altered the reporting, and the best evidence is the original after-action report from the company commander who was there. The photos are pretty clear that Omar was buried, and I would guess that was probably consistent with the effects of either an airstrike or use of artillery (light infantry would likely not be using weapons that would produce rubble adequate to bury someone). He also had a wound in his leg (from the air strikes) that made him unable to stand. The best he could have done was thrown the grenade kneeling. As someone who has thrown grenades, it is hard standing and requires you use your whole body – can’t imagine doing that kneeling. So the article is quite accurate in stating that if this had come into a real court, there is no way he would have been found guilty.

Also note the lack of all forensic evidence. The grenade fragments that killed the US soldier could have positively confirmed what type of grenade it was.

Omar’s psychiatrist commented that the assault on the compound was completely incompetently done which I would be inclined to agree with. A handful of people inside, and 100 soldiers with air support assaulted the compound for 4 hours? That sounds not like an effective assault, so the US had some reason to alter the facts.

Worst of all was the US declaration that all combatants in Afghanistan were legally ‘unlawful non-combatants’. They did that specifically to strip Geneva Convention protection from prisoners, and to allow them to criminally charge prisoners under military law. That was done retroactively so the US could torture and prosecute people at Gitmo. It is all highly unlawful and would not stand up in any real court. That’s the reason Omar has won 3 times at the Supreme Court of Canada, in spite of the Canadian government fighting him with all it’s ability. The US also denied him medical care in Gitmo, which has only been resolved in the last year or so in Canada (he’s had surgery to both his shoulder and his eye).

As a soldier, the US actions in that declaration are really troubling. I knew that my troops and I would always be afforded good treatment under the law of war – no torture, medical care, adequate protection and food and shelter. That law is designed to take a fundamentally inhumane activity and put in place basic guarantees. By suspending that law (which is a highly questionable action), the US stripped their opponents of what international law says are fundamental rights, even for irregular soldiers (although the Taliban was arguably an organized fighting force, closer to a military than civilians). That is a fundamental attack on the rights of a soldier, and I would argue transformed the war on terror into a fundamentally immoral activity. (Omar’s psychiatrist suggested this all started with George W Bush’s ‘the gloves are off’ speech, as he authorized the use of unlimited force which is never, never done in a first world military).

Another victim in this is the wife of the US soldier who was killed. She has been led to believe her husband was ‘murdered’ by Kadhr by her own government as a political tool. (although how a soldier can be murdered in combat is equally confusing and another example of the US twisting international law).

Final point. Although Omar was 15 at the time (one year older than the UN guidelines for child soldiers), he was a child soldier and a Canadian citizen. Both should have afforded him special protection. The actions of both Canadian governments involved tell me that Canadian citizenship is no guarantee of protection if the government decides you are undeserving. Giving a citizen up to be tortured by a foreign nation is evil – as happened with Maher Arar – and is a pretty clear example of institutional racism. It’s not surprising to me as it reflects the Canadian government’s treatment of indigenous citizens for the last 500 years or so. They are fighting court cases today to limit social services funding for indigenous children in spite of being found to be a discriminatory practice by the federal human rights tribunal, and that’s just one of many examples. There are something like 3 times the number of indigenous children in the care of the state today than were ever in the Residential School system. Canada is sometimes not a safe place to be depending on your racial identity!

Other reality – if Omar had gone through the court case for damages, it is likely the government would have been ordered to pay a much larger settlement. What price is 10 years of torture worth?

Stephen Harper posted a commentary today about how he feels for the family of the US medic. Sigh. Maher Arar tweeted yesterday that the clearest manifestation of white supremacy is when the US invades a country and labels all the opposition as ‘terrorists’. It permits all sorts of immoral activities.

A really good interview with Dennis Edny on CBC Ideas where he talks about the last 15 years. He is a man of rare moral character.



Written by sameo416

July 8, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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