Supporters of Canadian youth held in Guantanamo gather, demand action

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Omar Khadr

It was an awkward birthday gathering; as the family and supporters of Omar Khadr gathered in Toronto to try and explain why the Canadian youth was still being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr, who turned 21 on Wednesday, has become a rallying point for groups who say the Canadian government isn't doing enough to ensure he receives a fair trial. "Neither Liberals nor Conservatives have done anything," railed Khadr's defence attorney Dennis Edney, who is flying down to meet with his client on Monday.

"Comparatively, Canada is behind the curve," chastised Human Rights Watch spokesmen Nehal Bhuta, pointing out that Khadr has received "almost no support from his government" and therefore remains the only Western citizen still held in the detainment camp after nearly six years. HRW colleague and attorney Jennifer Daskal repeated the condemnation, calling on Canada to "step up, put pressure on the United States government."

"He is a victim of circumstance, not 'the worst of the worst'" explained Daskal, who was echoed by U.S. military counsel Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler "in other circumstances, we would have called him a child soldier."

Defence attorney Dennis Edney (L) and Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler (R)
Image: Joshua Sherurcij.

Alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed an American soldier, Khadr was only 15 years old at the time of the firefight that left him with three bulletholes in his chest. His sister Zaynab pressed Kuebler for answers, demanding to know if "the right to defend onself [is] exclusive to the US Army, because by all reports, that what Omar was doing".

Perhaps International Law professor Darryl Robinson phrased the conundrum most succinctly; "When we shoot at you, that's just war. When you shoot at us, it's a crime."

Quoting Richard Baxter of the Harvard Law School, Robinson challenged the Bush administration's claims of operating outside of international law, stating that "the first step in sidestepping humanitarian law, is denying its applicability." He further amused listeners by expanding on the catch-22 "you don't fall under the Third Geneva Convention because you're not a combatant, you're a criminal - and you don't fall under the Fourth Geneva Convention because you're not a criminal, you're a combatant...so I guess there are no rules".

Referencing the fact that even a legal acquittal could still leave Khadr in Guantanamo indefinitely, Bhuta summarised his continued detention as "sadly, something of an icon of everything that's gone wrong in the U.S. War on Terror."


Sources

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