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Growing up, I was taught that I have a responsibility to treat others with dignity, compassion, and humanity. So I get uneasy when powerful people use their platform to prey on fears and hatreds.

But this is what Larry Miller is doing with the government's settling of Omar Khadr's suit out of court. Many groups have made hay out of this issue, including anti-Muslim hate-groups rallying around Ontario. Miller's comments have provided a lot of bluster and very few facts.

Firstly, this is a fiscally prudent move by the government. Given that the suit was for $20m. and that the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has already ruled Khadr's rights were violated, the government's inevitable loss would result not only in the $20m. in damages, but they'd also have been responsible for all legal fees. But money isn't the core issue here.

These are the facts of Khadr's case: at 15 years old he was found under rubble in an Afghani compound in which American troops had engaged suspected Al Qaeda operatives. In this firefighter, Sgt. Christopher Speer, an armed Delta Force commando also trained to provide medical aid, was killed by a grenade. It's an open question how, lying face down under a collapsed roof, Khadr could have thrown this grenade over an eight foot barrier and 80 feet away, but set that aside.

Khadr was eventually rendered to Guantanamo Bay, a military base controlled by the Americans, where neither American nor international law applied. He was held in Guantanamo without trial for nearly a decade, where he was repeatedly tortured by American officials. This torture occurred, according to the SCC, with the full knowledge of successive Liberal and Conservative governments. It was only in 2010, after eight years of imprisonment and torture, that Khadr pled guilty of Sgt. Speers' death before a military tribunal - not a court of law. Critically, the tribunal's plea deal was presented as Khadr's only way out of the blackhole that is Guantanamo. Moreover, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed any of its citizens - let alone a child - to be repeatedly subjected to American torture.

Miller has called Khadr a 'terrorist' and a 'criminal' loudly and often. But in doing so he reveals his sparse understanding. If he truly imagines Khadr is responsible for Sgt. Speers' death, Miller must accept one of two things. The first is that Khadr is an enemy combatant, part of armed forces engaged in war. If so he is certainly not a criminal, as soldiers are not criminally responsible for the deaths of opponent combatants - Canadian veterans depend on this legal principle for their own safety. Moreover, if Khadr is an enemy combatant then the laws of war apply and the fact that Khadr was fifteen at the time means that he was a child soldier requiring rehabilitation rather than a decade of torture.

If, however, Khadr is a 'criminal,' then a murder case should have been brought against him in a timely fashion and tried before a court subject to the American Constitution. As no such case is forthcoming, and given the scant evidence that is admissible in court, I can only surmise that neither the American nor Canadian government can actually produce a criminal conviction. And, last I checked, thankfully, the Constitution still prohibits the use of evidence and confessions extracted through torture.

Given all this, I have to say that the public reaction to this settlement is alarming. It's worrisome that Canadians can't see that the fundamental principles of the rule of law are at stake here. Truth is, $10.5m. probably doesn't go far enough in sending a message to the government - present and future - that they owe an obligation to each citizen to ensure that we are afforded due-process of law. If this principle isn't guarded here and now, then its erosion by future governments is assured. If a citizen is taken, held, and tortured without repercussion, then what stops it from happening to countless others? If we don't turn the tide against the culture of cruelty that the right-wing in this country is ginning up, where are we heading?

Phil Henderson

Treaty No. 45 1/2, Territory of the Anishinaabeg of the Saugeen Ojibway First Nations,

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, ON

 

 

 

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