Alleged Child Soldier on Trial at Guantanamo

Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is now facing trial via a US military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Khadr is accused of throwing a hand grenade, which killed a US soldier in Afghanistan in 2002 and injured two others. His is the first trial before a military commission under the Obama administration. The trial began during the week of August 9, but is now on hold for 30 days as the defense attorney recovers from a sudden illness.

Khadr was only 15 years old when he was detained and sent to Guantanamo, where he was allegedly subjected to harsh interrogations, beatings, and other ill-treatment. Interrogators allegedly threatened to kill Khadr’s family if he didn’t cooperate. According to IPS News, “there seems to be little or no evidence that Khadr actually threw the grenade that killed the soldier, other than ‘confessions’ allegedly obtained under suspicious circumstances.”

And, notes IPS, “Patrick Parish, the military judge working on the case in Guantanamo, has decided to admit the statements extrapolated during these interrogations into court.” This is despite the fact that information obtained under torture and other forms of coercion is known to be unreliable. So, the deck is already stacked against him.

Human Rights First (HRF) has identified some additional problems with the case. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and international juvenile justice standards require prompt determination of juvenile cases and discourage detainment of juveniles at all except as a last resort,” says HRF on its web site. “Such standards have not been heeded by the US government in the case of Khadr. Khadr was held for two years prior to being given access to an attorney, waited more than three years prior to being charged before the first military commission and is now in his eighth year in US custody. During Khadr’s time in detainment, he has been held both in solitary confinement as well as with adult detainees, contrary to international standards requiring that children be treated in accordance with their age and segregated from adult detainees.”

Additionally, says HRF, “In 2002, the US ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which prohibits the use of children under 18 in armed conflict and requires signatories to criminalize such conduct and rehabilitate former child soldiers as well as provide ‘all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.’ The US has failed to heed these legal obligations in the case of Khadr.”

But, of course, it’s been a while since the US government has cared about complying with international law and human rights standards.

And, today, that remains another unkept promise of the Obama administration.

In a statement to the military judge in a pre-trial hearing in July, Khadr had asked, “How can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it?”

That is a very good question.

Unfortunately, the answer is probably not so good.