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I’m An Unapologetic Liberal. But Omar Khadr Has Put Me to the Test.

I’m an unapologetic Liberal.

I’ve said so on more than one occasion, and have been more than willing to face the Conservative backlash, and condemnation that automatically follows such a ‘bold’ declaration.

But even as I write this I must confess a feeling of unease, in planting my flag upon this ground, under these circumstances.

The reason, is that there is no black and white in this case, only endless shades of grey.

Omar Khadr was a 15 year old kid in 2002, and a Canadian citizen by mere happenstance.

Born in Toronto, he spent most of his early life in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in hotbed areas of Muslim extremism.

His father was a terrorist.

His family, at one time, lived with Osama bin Laden.

Clearly, from the moment of his birth, Khadr was culturally, and philosophically immersed in a childhood steeped in hatred for the West. That he became radicalized under these conditions, is no more surprising than a Catholic child becoming an alter-server at the local parish church. In some sense, it was expected, and inevitable.

Khadr took military training, and learned to make bombs and IEDs. Some of those explosives may very well have injured or killed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Then came the firefight, on July 27th, 2002.

By all logical reckoning, young Omar Khadr should never have seen his 16th birthday. Indeed, the nearly 100 American and coalition allied-soldiers who surrounded the ruins of the walled compound at the centre of the attack, assumed that there were no survivors remaining within its walls. It seemed like a safe bet.

For four hours American attack aircraft had pounded the target with wave after wave of cluster bombs, rockets, missiles, and endless bursts of 30mm machine-gun shells fired at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute, from American A-10 Warthog aircraft, Apache helicopters, and F18 fighter-bombers. What could possibly survive that? Facing the silent, smoking ruins of the enemy compound, American ground troops reasonably concluded they would be going in to count bodies, and nothing else.

Tragically, and to their amazement, the advancing soldiers discovered that there were still live combatants inside, and they were willing to fight. Omar Khadr, was one of them.

No one ever saw Khadr toss the grenade that killed Sgt. Christoper Speer, a 28-year old medic from Denver, Colorado.

That he did, was a guess determined by the position of the teen soldier when American fighters returned fire, and put two slugs through Khadr’s back, leaving two large exit wounds in his chest. He very nearly bled out and died, in the same spot where he’d miraculously survived the intense bombardment of the initial assault on the compound.

But another American medic, and compatriot of Speers, rushed in and saved his life.

Khadr was no innocent. He was an enemy combatant, and a terrorist. There can be no real doubt about that.

However, he was also both a young kid, and a Canadian citizen.

From here, the story takes a number of twists and turns filled with moral ambiguity, unreliable narrative, and ultimately, clear violations of international law.

Khadr ended up as yet another prisoner at Guantánamo Bay; the notorious high security prison complex maintained by the U.S. military on the southern tip of Cuba.

There are numerous, documented reports that expose instances of torture, forced-feeding, sensory deprivation, and denial of both human and legitimate legal rights, throughout the history of Guantánamo Bay. So odious is its nature, that former U.S. President Barack Obama sought to have it shut down permanently, and declared that it should never have been established in the first place.

But “Gitmo” remains open, functioning as the most expensive prison facility on earth, and still houses at least 40 inmates.

What Khadr endured during the first three years of his detention, until the U.S. Supreme Court extended Geneva Convention protections to the detainees at Gitmo, is gut-wrenching. There are several accounts, but one of the most poignant is an extended article by Jeff Tietz in Rolling Stone magazine.

In 2003, Khadr was interrogated by Canadian intelligence officials, who then turned the information gathered during that process over to American military officials. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada declared the entire proceedings illegal, and ruled that Khadr’s rights as a Canadian citizen had been clearly violated.

His legal saga did not end, however, until this week. That’s when the Canadian government turned over $10.5 Million dollars in compensation payments to Khadr, along with a formal apology for illegally violating his statutory rights as a Canadian.

And that’s where the fury begins.

There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are outraged that Khadr is even free from custody, let alone the recipient of Millions of taxpayer dollars, and an apology from the Canadian government. After all, this is someone who fought against that government. Someone who may very well have killed Canadian soldiers directly, or indirectly in combat, or by the use of explosive IEDs he manufactured. Someone who in many meaningful ways, is “Canadian” on paper, and nothing else. A terrorist who sought to overthrow the values and the legal system under which he was ultimately “rewarded”.

Why should he receive so much, while the Canadian veterans who fought against him to defend this nation, and its way of life, are poorly compensated, and often receive shabby treatment from the very government they serve?

I’ve got to admit, there’s a side of me that finds common ground in that anger.

What sways me away from that, and leads me in the end to support the decision of the Supreme Court, and the actions of the Trudeau government, is something fairly simple.

Seventy years ago, more than 44-thousand Canadians died, fighting to defend, preserve and guarantee the rights and freedoms that we so blithely take for granted today.

In fact, we are so enured to the automatic function of these liberties, that we sometimes fail to see the danger in having them put to the test. That danger of course, is having them fail a most extreme challenge, or worse yet, having them ignored under the most intense of circumstances. Should either thing happen, those precious rights that we so revere, may vanish.

Our legal rights as Canadians cannot be applied selectively. Used in one case, but ignored in another. If these rights are to endure; to remain a vibrant and vital part of our free and democratic society, then they must be applied equally, in all cases. Even the odious ones.

Yes, Omar Khadr was essentially an accidental Canadian. Born, but for the most part, not raised here. In the end, however, that doesn’t matter. What does matter, is that he won the global lottery. He was born in a country consistently ranked as one of the greatest on earth. A country that the world now looks up to, for leadership. A country with the best reputation in the world. A country that, given the hardest of choices, decided to what was right, instead of what was popular.

It upheld the rights of a Canadian citizen under the most extreme circumstances imaginable.

The rights that even the soldiers he was trying to kill, defended with honour, and commitment.

That’s the Canada that makes me so proud. The one I love so dearly.

And that, to me, is worth far more, than $10-Million dollars.





I'm a veteran broadcast journalist, producer, writer, and talk show gadabout. I like to play bad hockey, drink good beer, take sporadic rides on my bicycle and generally annoy my family with Dad jokes and selective memory. ( Lois the dog, excepted. )

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