Sunday 31 January 2010

What should be done with Omar Khadr?

This young man was born in Toronto, Ontario on September 19, 1986 and is the fifth child in the Canadian Khadr family. He was captured by American forces at the age of 15 following a four-hour firefight with militants in the village of Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan. He was charged with war crimes and providing support to terrorism after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier. In February 2008, the Pentagon accidentally released documents that revealed that although Khadr was present in the house, there was no other evidence that he had thrown the grenade. In fact, military officials had originally reported that another of the surviving militants had thrown the grenade just before being killed; and later rewrote their report to implicate Khadr instead. We won’t know for sure who threw the fatal grenade until after Khadr has had his trial which is expected to be conducted sometime this year.

The particulars of the firefight is as follows; (I got the info from Wickipedia)

Arriving at a series of mud huts and a granary filled with fresh straw surrounded by a 10-foot (3.0 m) stone wall with a green metal gate approximately 100 metres radius from the main hut, the Special Forces team saw children playing around the buildings and an old man sleeping beneath a nearby tree.

Seeing five ‘well-dressed’ men sitting around a fire in the main residence, with AK-47s visible in the room, an American soldier (Morris) has claimed that he either approached the hut and told the occupants, who had seen him, to open the front door or that he snuck quietly back without being seen and a perimeter was set up around the complex. Either way, his team waited 45 minutes for support from the soldiers searching the first residence, and at one point Morris chided the soldiers from the 82nd for setting up a defensive perimeter with their backs to the house, rather than properly covering the house itself.

During this time, the elderly man sleeping beneath the tree awoke and began screaming loudly in Pashto, causing a number of local children to run over and interpret for the Americans, explaining that the man was ‘just angry’. Morris took a photograph of the children standing on the road outside the compound. A crowd of approximately a hundred local Afghans had gathered around the area to watch the incident unfold. An Afghan militiaman was sent towards the house to demand the surrender of the occupants, but retreated under gunfire.

Reinforcements from the 3rd Platoon of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 505th Infantry Regiment arrived under the command of Captain Christopher W. Cirino, bringing the total number of Americans and Afghan militia to about fifty. Two of Zadran's militiamen were sent into the compound to speak with the inhabitants, and returned to the Americans' position and reported that the men inside claimed to be Pashtun villagers. They were told to return to the huts, and inform the occupants that the Americans wanted to search their house regardless of their affiliation. Upon hearing this, the occupants of the hut opened fire, shooting both militiamen.

Several women immediately fled the huts and ran away while the occupants began throwing grenades at the American troops, with intermittent rifle fire. After the firefight, a statement by one of the soldiers would contradict this and say that there had only been one woman and one child present, and both were detained by US forces after exiting the huts.

Morris and Silver had now taken up positions outside the stone wall, with Silver over Morris's left shoulder explaining where he should try to position his next shot, when Morris fell back into Silver, with a cut above his right eye and shrapnel embedded in his nose. Both Silver and Morris initially believed the wound was due to Morris' rifle malfunctioning, though it was later attributed to an unseen grenade. In an alternate account of the injury, Morris has also claimed that he was inside the compound and hiding behind the granary preparing to fire a rocket-propelled grenade into a wall of the house when he was shot.

Morris was dragged a safe distance from the action, and was shortly after joined by Spc. Michael Rewakowski, Pfc. Brian Worth and Spc. Christopher J. Vedvick who had also been wounded by the grenade attacks.

At 0910 a request for MedEvac was sent to the 57th Medical Detachment. Ten minutes later, DUSTOFF 36 and Wings 11, a pair of UH-60s, were deployed as well as AH-64 Apaches Widowmaker 23 and Widowmaker 26 as escort. Arriving at the scene, the Apaches strafed the compound with cannon and rocket fire, while the medical helicopters remained 12 miles (19 km) from the ongoing firefight The helicopters finally landed at 1028 to load the wounded aboard DUSTOFF 36, while Brian Basham switched helicopters to take a wounded prisoner aboard WINGS 11, leaving Cpt. Michael Stone, CWO Ezekial Coffman, Spc. Jose Peru and Sgt. Frank Caudill aboard DUSTOFF 36, as a pair of F-18 Hornets dropped Mark 82 bombs on the houses.

At this point, a five-vehicle convoy of ground reinforcements arrived including a rifle squad from the 82nd Airborne, bringing the number of troops to approximately a hundred. Two of these vehicles were damaged beyond use by the militants. Ten minutes later, the MedEvac left for Bagram Airbase and a pair of A-10 Warthogs arrived on-scene and began attacking the houses along with the Apaches. The MedEvac arrived at Bagram Airfield at 1130.

Unaware that Omar Khadr and a militant had survived the bombing, the ground forces sent a team consisting of OC-1, (witness to the event) Silver, Speer and three Delta Force soldiers through a hole in the south side of the wall, while at least two other American troops continued throwing grenades into the compound.

The team began picking their way over the bodies of dead animals and three insurgents. According to Silver's 2007 telling of the story, he then heard a sound "like a gunshot", and saw the three Delta Force soldiers duck as a grenade flew past them and exploded near Speer, who was at the rear of the group and not wearing his helmet.

OC-1 reported that although he didn't hear any gunfire, but the dust being blown from an alley on the north side of the complex led him to believe the team was under fire from a shooter between the house and barn. He reported that a grenade was also "lobbed" over the wall that led to the alley and landed 30-50 metres from the alley opening. Running towards the alley to escape the grenade which he also didn't hear detonate, OC-1 fired a dozen M4 Carbine rounds into the alley as he ran past, although he couldn't see anything due to the rising dust clouds. Crouching at the southeast entrance to the alleyway, OC-1 could see a man with a holstered pistol moving on the ground next to an AK-47, with two chest wounds. From his position, OC-1 fired a single shot into the man's head, killing him.

When the dust cleared, OC-1 saw Khadr crouched on his knees facing away from the action and wounded by shrapnel that had just permanently blinded his left eye, and shot him twice in the back.

OC-1 estimated that all the events since entering the wall had taken less than a minute up until this point, and that he had been the only American to fire his weapon, although an American grenade had also been thrown into the living quarters after initially entering the complex.

Silver initially claimed that two Delta Force troops had opened fire, shooting all three of the shots into Khadr's chest, after the youth was seen to be holding a pistol and facing the troops. These claims all directly contradict OC-1's version of events as the only eyewitness. OC-1 did agree however, that something was lying in the dust near Khadr's end of the alley, although he couldn't remember if it were a pistol or grenade.

Entering the alleyway, OC-1 saw two dead men with a damaged AK-47 buried in rubble who he believed had been killed in the air strikes, and confirmed that the man he had shot was dead. Moving back to Khadr, OC-1 tapped the motionless youth's eye, confirming that he was still alive. Turning him over onto his back, he began exiting the alleyway to find Speer, who he was unaware had been wounded. While leaving the alleyway, he saw a third AK-47 and several grenades. Contradicting Morris' report of five well-dressed men, OC-1 maintained that a search of the rubble determined that there had only been four occupants, all found in the same alleyway.

Khadr was given on-site medical attention, during which time he repeatedly asked the medics to kill him, surprising them with his English. An officer present later recorded in his diary that he was about to tell a Private, Second Class to kill the wounded Khadr, when Delta Force soldiers ordered them not to harm the prisoner. Khadr was then loaded aboard a CH-47 helicopter and flown to Bagram Airbase, losing consciousness aboard the flight.

The following day, soldiers including Silver returned to search the premises. Local villagers were believed to have taken away two bodies and provided them an Islamic burial, but refused to disclose their location to the Americans who wished to identify the fighters.

Believing that the wooden boards beneath the last-killed rifleman could have been used to cover an underground chamber, an excavator was used to tear down the walls of the buildings. This demolition uncovered five boxes of rifle ammunition, two rockets, two grenades and three rocket-propelled grenades in the huts. Some of them had accidentally detonated while lying in the smouldering ruins. A plastic bag was discovered in the granary, containing documents, wires and a videocassette. OC-1's report claims the videotape was found in the main house, rather than the granary, and also mentioned detonators modeled as Sega game cartridges.

The video shows Khadr toying with detonating cord as other men including Abu Laith al-Libi assemble explosives in the same house as had just been destroyed, identifiable by its walls, rugs and the environment seen out the windows in the video, and planting landmines while smiling and joking with the cameraman. It has been suggested that these were the same landmines later recovered by American forces on a road between Gardez and Khowst.

The firefight, originally labeled an ambush, was hailed as the first major engagement since Operation Anaconda had ended four months earlier. Hansen and Watt were both awarded a Bronze Star, for running forward under fire to retrieve two fallen bodies. Sources differ on whether these were wounded American soldiers including Layne Morris or the two Afghan militiamen shot at the outset. The five wounded men were all awarded Purple Hearts. Speer was moved from Bagram airbase to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he was removed from life support on August 7, with his heart, liver, lungs and kidneys all being donated.

Why was Khadr in the hut with armed insurgents?

As I see it, this young man had no business being in a hut with armed insurgents especially when the American forces were in the immediate area. I can appreciate a fifteen-year-old fighting for his country. (many did it in the Second World War when defending their homelands) however, Afghanistan was not his homeland so Khadr had no right to be fighting Americans in Afghanistan.

It was is father, Ahmed Said Khadr who took him there from his home in Toronto to Afghanistan. Omar’s father was born in Egypt, moved to Canada in 1977. Later he was accused of being a ‘founding member’ of al-Qaeda and financier for the terrorist organization. He was later put on a list of suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Later still, he was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces near the Afghanistan border. Abdullah Khadr is the eldest son in the family and he is under indictment by the Americans. He is facing four charges, including conspiring to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to possess a destructive device to commit violent crimes. Other members of the family were suspected of involvement with al-Qaeda. Based on his family’s background, it doesn’t surprise me that the Americans believe that Omar Khadr went to Afghanistan to fight and kill American soldiers.

What do the charges against Omar Khadr entail?

War crimes are violations of the laws or customs of war; including "murder amongst other things. Article 22 of the Hague IV (Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV); October 18, 1907) states that "The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited. What this means is that there are limitations as to what can be used by anyone as a means of fighting other belligerents. The use of poison gas is prohibited for example. That is why Chemical Ali, the Iraqi general responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them by poison gas, was hanged in January 2010 by his own country.

But Omar Khadr is only accused of throwing a grenade at the American soldiers who were approaching the hut he was in. That by itself isn’t a war crime.

Because the definition of a ‘state of war’ may be debated, the term ‘war crime’ itself has seen different usage under different systems of international and military law. It has some degree of application outside of what some may consider being a state of ‘war’, but in areas where conflicts persist enough to constitute social instability, they believe a ‘state of war’ exists. A ‘state of war’ is generally accepted as being a condition marked by armed conflict between or among states, existing whether or not war has been declared formally by any of the belligerents.

However, just because American soldiers at the invitation of the Afghan president are in Afghanistan, fighting Afghan insurgents; doesn’t necessarily mean that a ‘state of war’ as defined by the Hague Convention, actually exists between the American armed forces and the Afghan insurgents.

It is beyond my understanding as to why the Americans believe that there is justification in accusing Omar Khadr of a war crime.

Now he is also accused of murder. Let’s say for argument sake that he really did throw the grenade at the American soldier that resulted in the soldier being killed. In doing so, did he commit the crime of murder? Could he not successfully argue that during the intense firefight, he was merely defending himself and that the defence of one’s own life is a valid defence?

Unfortunately for him, there exists a video of him toying with detonating cord as other men including Abu Laith al-Libi assembled explosives. I don’t know exactly how to define ‘toying’ under those circumstances but it doesn’t mean assembling detonating cord. But he was also video-taped assisting in the planting of explosives. That could be evidence of him being a terrorist and if so, then it is evidence of attempted murder.

I don’t know why this young man was in the hut in the first place since there were children in the hut also and I suppose when he went into the hut, the Americans hadn’t arrived at the village at that moment. However, one does not hang around inside a hut when insurgents are assembling explosives unless one has insurgent leanings or one is an insurgent. I suspect that Omar Khadr was in Afghanistan for the purpose of being an insurgent and for the purpose of fighting American soldiers. But does that make him a war criminal?

This young man had no business going to Afghanistan to fight Americans or anyone else for that matter. Just because his terrorist father invited him to go to that war-stricken country, doesn’t mean that he had too. I think he went there to play at war. Well, we all know what that cost him. He got shot twice in the back and has spent years in Guantanano Bay and at the time of this writing, his future is unknown.

Canada’s role in this mess

Canadian federal officials from CISIS visited Khadr in 2003 and 2004, and at the time the U.S. allowed access only for the purposes of gleaning intelligence ----- not consular visits where governments could check on the well-being of their citizens. The Americans were wrong in not permitting consular visits from our Department of Foreign Affairs or the International Red Cross.

A Canadian Supreme Court ruling that Omar Khadr's constitutional rights were violated by Canadian officials in an ‘oppressive’ Guantanamo Bay prison has prompted a storm of calls for the government to seek his immediate return. However, the Canadian government has made it quite clear that they will not do anything to stop this young man from being tried in the United States---nor should they.

There is no evidence that he has committed a crime in Canada or against any Canadian citizen but there is some evidence that he participated in a firefight against American soldiers that placed him in a category that is not of a prisoner of war but rather as a terrorist. Let’s face it. If someone leaves a country like Canada to fight in another country that is rife with terrorist-like activity and he associates himself with these terrorists and kills a soldier that is fighting these terrorists, then he is no different than the terrorist he associates with. If he killed had a Canadian soldier, he could be tried in Canada for treason and murder. Because he isn’t an American citizen, he can’t be tried for treason but since he acted as a terrorist, it seems to me that he can be tried for the murder of the American soldier if it is established that it was he who threw the grenade at the soldier that killed him.

If he is convicted of murder, a number of things can then occur. First, he could be sentenced to death but I don’t think that is going to happen, considering the fact that he was only 15 when he allegedly threw the grenade. He could be sentenced to prison for life without the possibility of parole or with the possibility of parole. That could happen. He could be sentenced to prison for life and then be transferred to Canada to serve his sentence in a Canadian prison. That could really happen after he has served a couple of years in an American prison. If that happens, he could be release from the Canadian prison in a couple of years. If that were to happen, it would infuriate the Americans. Of course, there is the possibility that he will be acquitted.

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