Khadr to face commission, not courts

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After 39 months at Guantánamo Bay, Omar Ahmed Khadr, a 19 year-old Canadian citizen, was charged this week with murder and attempted murder in addition to charges for aiding the enemy. In 2002, Khadr—just 15 years old at the time—was the sole survivor of a U.S. raid on an Al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan and is accused of throwing the grenade that killed U.S. medic Sgt. Christopher Speer and injured Sgt. 1st Class Layne Morris.

Although details are still unclear as to what happened in Afghanistan, Khadr will face a military commission. What’s more, the U.S. government has identified Khadr as an “unprivileged belligerent,” which means he does not fall under Geneva Conventions. Khadr will be tried under the U.S. military commission, rather than in the regular court system. The constitutionality of these commissions is under fire in the US.. The commission allows testimony to be heard without the presence of the defence’s lawyer and the jury is made up of military officers. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of Khadr receiving a fair trial, which is a fundamental right of each individual under international law—a right arguably upheld most adamantly by the U.S..

While the U.S. has decided not to pursue the death penalty, the Canadian government is still pressing the U.S. to grant Khadr access to Canadian lawyers and to representation during the tribunal.

Reports about the torture of prisoners and substandard conditions at Guantánamo Bay are not new. The U.S. military has essentially created its own black hole where inmates are beyond American law. While Bush has stood by his war using human rights violations—among other things—to justify his controversial decision, he too has committed various human rights violations. Amnesty International said, “Hypocrisy, an overarching war mentality and a disregard for basic human rights principles and international legal obligations continue to mark the USA’s ‘war on terror.’ ”

It is important that as an international community, Canada and other countries stand up for Khadr’s right to a fair trial, just as any of us would expect to be given by our own government. As individuals, we must also make our own personal efforts to make politicians hear our voices, whether that means e-mailing or sending letters to show the U.S. government that its treatment of prisoners is unacceptable.

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