Omar Khadr, torture & holding governments to account

Omar Khadr has been in the news recently. The federal government has agreed to an out-of-court settlement estimated to be $10.5 million. This has angered many Canadians.

It has not angered me at all. In fact, it confirms my long-standing belief that governments engaging in torture must be held accountable. Let me explain.

At the age of 15 Omar, a Canadian citizen, was in Afghanistan fighting American forces. He was engaged in a firefight at the end of which an American soldier was dead. No one knows for sure whether of not Omar was responsible for the American’s death. What little evidence there is against him is entirely circumstantial.

Omar was taken into custody by the Americans and then subjected to brutal torture over a multi-year period. Eventually, as a direct result of the torture, he “confessed” to having thrown a grenade at the American soldier who had died.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture.[Photo: Justin Norman, ‘Witness Against Torture’ fast for justice and march from the White House to the US Supreme Court on behalf of Guantánamo Detainees.]

Former Crown Counsel Sandy Garossino has written an excellent article about this case in the National Observer. Detail by detail, she takes apart the case against Omar and leaves the reader with no doubt that absent the “confession”, he would never have been convicted.

We must do everything in out power to ensure that our government is never complicit in torture. Even more important, confessions obtained through the use of torture must never be used to convict.

Let us not forget that Omar was a child soldier.

I had the honour and the privilege of meeting Omar Khadr just over a year ago. He is a very beautiful human being. He radiates forgiveness. And he holds no grudge against any of the people who committed the terrible acts of torture against him over so many years.

Let us also not forget that the payment to Omar is to compensate him for a lost decade of life. Canada did absolutely nothing to help bring about his freedom from Guantanamo. Had it not been for a remarkable Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, who acted for Omar pro bono for many years, he would still be languishing in that despicable military prison.

When governments acquiesce to torture and fail to stand up for their own citizens, they must be held accountable. This out-of-court settlement sends a strong signal. Future governments will, hopefully, do a much better job.

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