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By Laura Bohnert
On July 7, the Canadian government released an apology to Omar Khadr—an apology that has been alleged to be accompanied by a $10.5 million compensation payout. It’s a decision that has renewed controversy in a longstanding divisive issue that weighs the legalities of war crimes against legal human rights.
Now 30, Toronto-born Canadian citizen Omar Ahmed Sayid Khadr was 15 when he ended up in US custody after being taken by his father, who has Al-Qaeda affiliations, to Afghanistan. Khadr was wounded during a firefight between US soldiers and Taliban fighters in the village of Ayub Kheyl in 2002—at which time he was alleged to have thrown the grenade that killed American Delta Force soldier Sgt. Christopher Speer.
Khadr was captured and eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was interrogated by both Canadian and US intelligence officers. There he pleaded guilty to five war crimes, including “murder in violation of the laws of war.”
However, the case isn’t quite so cut and dry.
Khadr pleaded before a military commission, a process which has since been widely condemned for violating civil rights and “offend[ing] the most basic Canadian standards [of] the treatment of detained youth suspects,” a 2010 Supreme Court of Canada ruling declared.
The Supreme Court further ruled that the Canadian government had participated in a “then-illegal military regime” at Guantanamo that violated Khadr’s guarantee of fundamental justice under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Khadr’s charges, although they were actioned in 2002, were created under the Military Commission Act of 2006; as a result, his actions were considered to be war crimes, even though they were not considered to be so when they were allegedly committed, and even though international law does not recognize them as war crimes.
Khadr, the first individual since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed while still a minor, later appealed his conviction, stating that he pleaded guilty to an eight-year sentence in order to return to Canada after a minimum of one year.
Khadr wasn’t transferred back to a Canadian prison until 2012, and in 2013, he filed a $20 million civil suit against the government of Canada for colluding with the US in the abuse of his rights.
Khadr reports that, during the time he was held captive, he was repeatedly threatened with rape, was isolated, and on one occasion used as a human mop to clean urine. He was also subjected to the “frequent flyer program,” a practice of moving a prisoner from cell to cell in order to break down his resistance to interrogation.
Khadr was released on bail in 2015—despite the Canadian government’s request that his release be blocked.
The federal apology was issued in response to the violation of rights Khadr received his treatment by the Canadian government. The apology reads:
“On behalf of the government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Khadr for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to his ordeal abroad and any resulting harm…. We hope that this expression, and the negotiated settlement reached with the government, will assist him in his efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in his life with his fellow Canadians.”
While reports list the settlement of Khadr’s long-standing lawsuit to amount to $10.5 million, that number has yet to be concerned. The federal government has issued a statement stating only that “The details of the settlement are confidential between Mr. Khadr and the government.”