Friday, 8 May 2015

Should a convicted child terrorist be released from prison?

 Family of Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr’s mother and father brought him to Afghanistan when he was 11. They later moved to Ottawa, Canada. His father Ahmed Khadr (born in 1948), was an Egyptian-Canadian. Maha el-Samnah (born 1957) is his mother and she is a Palestinian –Canadian. Zaynab Khadr (born 1979 in Ottawa), a daughter Abdullah Khadr (born 1981 in Ottawa), a son who returned to Canada in 2005, was arrested on behalf of the United States and held for five years while an extradition request was reviewed. Ontario Superior Court ordered him released in 2010 citing "shocking and unjustifiable" human rights violations by the Americans. Abdurahman Khadr (born 1982), a son notable for press interviews dubbing the Khadrs "an al-Qaeda family" and his co-operation with the United States intelligence services. Ibrahim Khadr (1985–1988), a son who had a congenital heart defect. Omar Khadr (born 1986), a son captured by American forces following a 2002 firefight and held in Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2012. He returned to Canada in September, 2012.  Abdulkareem Khadr (born 1989), a son, severely wounded in the attack in which his father died; is now paraplegic and youngest daughter was born in 1991.

Ahmed Khadr went to college and did graduate work in Canada, where he met and married Maha el-Samnah. They moved to Pakistan in 1985 because he wanted to do charitable work for Afghan refugees following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 1986, the family was living in an apartment in Peshawar on an $800 monthly allowance. In 1992 the family returned to Canada and rented an apartment in Toronto following an incident in Afghanistan that left the father Ahmed disabled and needing rehabilitation. He was a senior member of al-Qaeda and was killed in 2003 by Pakistani security forces.

The family left Canada a year and a half later and returned to Pakistan. In 1995 Khadr was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, but was released. In September 1997, the Khadr family moved again. During this time, they visited Nazim Jihad, the family home of Osama bin Laden in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. They stayed at the compound the following year during the father's absence. The family say they stayed two days, while the FBI says it was a month.

They subsequently moved to the Karte Parwan neighbourhood of Kabul and lived there from 1999–2001. The Khadrs were registered as operators of a Canadian charity. They closed their office in the upscale Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood to bring work in their own home.

Following the Invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets  in October 2001, Maha, with Abdulkareem, Omar, and her young daughter; and Zaynab and her daughter Safia joined a convoy leaving Kabul to travel towards Gardez. When they arrived, they discovered that their intended residence had been bombed.

They traveled to an orphanage that Ahmed had run. In 2003 they stayed briefly with a family in Birmal, Pakistan. They finally moved in with a Pashto family in a hut in the mountains, where they saw Ahmed monthly. Abdurahman Khadr had been arrested and worked as an undercover informant with the CIA while he was held as a detainee at Guantanamo; he later continued to work undercover in Bosnia.

Omar Khadr

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) stated that Omar and his older brother Abdulkareem attended al-Qaeda training camps when they were in Afghanistan.                

Khadr, at the age of 15 years and 10 months, was severely wounded after being shot in the back twice by an undisclosed high-ranking US official. OC-1, the pseudonym of the shooter, claimed he shot the already badly wounded Khadr because he was the only person left in the camp who could have thrown the grenade that killed a U.S. Army combat medic, a claim that would later play a central role in the prosecution of Khadr. It was later revealed in a document accidentally leaked by Guantanamo officials that there was another man who was present at the time of the grenade throw, but who had instantly been killed by OC-1 via a headshot before he had shot Khadr. After seeing the severely wounded 15-year old asking his adversaries to kill him, one official was about to do so before the Delta Squad ordered Khadr to be detained instead.

Now before I proceed any further, let me give you a question. “Was Omar Khadr a terrorist when he threw that that grenade over a wall that landed near the medic and killed him or was he a child who was fighting soldiers who were attacking his village?” He was a young terrorist because a photo has been published of him previously making a bomb. We must not forget that he was brought up by a father who was a senior official in a terrorist organization and he was living as a child amongst terrorists so it follows that terrorism was ingrained in his immature mind.     

After being detained, he was tortured for information about Al Qaeda and subsequently sent to Guantanamo Bay detention camp, in Cuba, There he remained for the next ten years without being charged with any crime whatsoever.

No matter what you may think of this young man, keeping him in custody for ten years without charging him with a crime is outrageous and illegal. Even vile serial killers don’t wait in custody for ten years without being charged with something. In effect, he was being punished for a crime without having first been convicted of a crime. Decent Americans probably feel ashamed that their government condoned such a thing to happen even to a terrorist. Further, he was often mistreated in Guantanamo by being strung up by his hands and even hog-tied and then used as a mop. That is not the way civilized nations treat prisoners. He was also water-boarded.

Khadr was the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed while still a minor. His conviction and sentence were widely denounced by civil rights groups and various newspaper editorials. He was formally identified as a boy soldier by the head of the United Nations child soldier program in a letter to the Military Commission in October 2010. The Commission ignored the letter.  

Khadr was to be tried by a Guantanamo military commission tribunal; a venue reserved for non-American enemy combatants. That was averted by a plea agreement signed by Khadr. Subsequently in October 2010, after eight years of so-called “enhanced interrogation” he pleaded guilty in a plea agreement to the charges of war crimes, including murder in violation of the law of war  and providing material support for terrorism., to wit;  the killing of a U.S. medic by throwing a hand grenade and of planting mines to target U.S. convoys.

Now if he wasn’t classed as a terrorist, he wouldn’t have been charged with any crime if he was attempting to protect the village he was in. But in my opinion, he was a terrorist and as such, the punishment awarded to violent terrorists can be quite severe. He was originally sentenced to 40 years in [prison but if he didn’t appeal the sentence, it would be reduced to eight years. not including time served, with the possibility of a transfer to Canada after at least one year to serve the remainder of the sentence there, based on a diplomatic (United States/Canada) Agreement.  He willingly accepted the agreement.

I was present at the United Nations conference in 1975 that was held at the UN headquarters in Geneva when the Canadian delegation submitted the transfer proposal to the other delegates attending the conference. I knew then that is was good idea since many English-speaking prisoners in prisons where English isn’t spoken was unnecessarily increasing the punishing aspect of their imprisonment. As a UN recognized Canadian Observer to the conference, I couldn’t vote on the matter but I could speak on it but practically every one of the nations in attendance were in favour of it so I simply chose to say nothing.

On September 29, 2012 Khadr was repatriated to Canada. He was to serve the remainder of his sentence in Canadian custody. Under Canadian law he was eligible for parole ion 2013. The reason for that is that under Canadian law, prisoners can apply for parole after serving a minimum of one third of their sentence.     

He began serving his sentence in the Millhaven Institution in Ontario (a maximum prison) then transferred to the Edmonton Institution, (a medium security prison in Alberta) and finally to the Bowden Institution south of the Edmonton Institution. It is minimum security prison. It is really a minimum security prison and I should know because I was the program director in that prison back in 1957.

Now it is here where I will describe the stupidity of the Canadian government as it appears  to people who have functioning brains.   

In June 2015, Khadr is automatically eligible for release back into the community since as per Canadian law; he will have served two thirds of his sentence.

He applied for bail in April of this year on the basis that he has recanted his confession and is appealing his conviction of the American Tribunal. Quite frankly, I don’t think he has a chance in Hell of getting that conviction overturned. Let me explain why.

He claims that he didn’t deliberately throw the grenade over the wall to kill anyone. He says he actually tossed it over his back while running away. His words were, “I heard shooting. I was scared.  I had a hand grenade, I threw it over my back and it exploded. I wanted to scare them away. I wasn’t responsible for killing someone.” His explanation is not possible because when the soldiers found him, he was buried under stone rubble. This means that he had to have thrown the grenade before he was buried under the rubble since he couldn’t have been running away when the wall fell on him. Further, he had to know that when he was making road bombs, that a Marine riding in a vehicle may very well have been killed by one of his bombs. His explanation for confessing was as he said it, “I have no memory at all of that day or anything at all about a grenade being thrown at any U.S. soldiers", that the plea agreement was "constructed by the U.S. government in its entirety", and that he had signed it only to escape the "continued abuse and torture" at Guantanamo Bay." His lawyer said that the plea agreement was constructed by the US Government in its entirety and that his client only signed it to escape from the continued abuse and torture in Guantanamo Bay.  . The defence will argue that Khadr is not guilty of a war crime, and only made his admissions under extreme duress.

I won’t fault Khadr with signing the Agreement because for him not to would have had a detrimental effect on his life.  However I certainly dispute the lawyer’s statement that what Khadr did wasn’t a war crime. If he was a regular solder, then he would have committed no crime at all. But as a terrorist, he doesn’t have the protection of being classed as an ordinary soldier and since he was photographed making road bombs, whatever he did at that firefight, it was the actions of a terrorist. I think the expectations of Khadr’s lawyer having his client’s conviction overturned is slim at best.

Quite frankly, I don’t know why he was seeking bail when in fact, he would automatically be released in June. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that prisoners in custody who are appealing their convictions generally apply for bail. Some get it and others do not. It depends on whether or not they are a danger to society. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Is Khadr a present danger to society?”

According to the federal prison authorities and others, he isn’t a danger at all. He behaved himself while in custody in the three Canadian prisons he was serving his time in. Further, his lawyer had offered to let Khadr live with him and his family while serving the last third of his sentence on parole. King's University in Edmonton has offered Khadr the chance to attend that university as a mature student.

On April 24, 2015, Court of Queen's Bench, Justice (Judge) June Ross granted Khadr bail and ordered that he remain in custody until May 5th where the conditions of his bail would be determined. She said in her ruling, “Even though the applicant has pled guilty to serious offences, he should be granted judicial interim release, because he has a strong basis for an appeal, and the risk to public safety is not such that it is in the public's best interest that he remain in pre-appeal detention in a manner that could render his appeal irrelevant.” unquote   Does she know something about his conviction that I don’t know?

Steven Blaney, Canada's minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said in a statement that same day after learning of the judge’s decision, “We are disappointed and will appeal this decision, Our government will continued to combat the international jihadi movement which has declared war on Canada and her Alies. Omar Kadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes, including the murder of American army med Sgt, Christopher Speer. We will vigorously defend against any attempt to lessen his punishment for these crimes. unquote  

Earlier in April, the American prosecutor in the case heard in the US argued in the Canadian court that a Canadian court had no jurisdiction to decide on Khadr's bail. He was wrong.   

In Canada, the right to apply for bail pending an appeal is provided by Canadian statute to offenders who have been convicted and sentenced under the Canadian Criminal Code. Admittedly, Khadr wasn’t convicted and sentenced in Canada however, anyone who was convicted of a crime and sentenced in another country and then is transferred to Canada to finish his sentence is no longer under the jurisdiction of the other country, pursuant to section 14 of the International Transfer Offenders Act. The Act however doesn’t give Canada the right to overturn the conviction. That can only be done by the Americans and that is why Khadr’s lawyer is filing his client’s appeal in the US.  

Khadr was set free on bail on May 7th  while he appeals his convictions in the United States for war crimes, after Alberta Court of Appeal Justice (Judge) Myra Bielby shot down a bid by the Federal government to have him remain behind bars.

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said; "We are disappointed by the decision of the court because we feel that victims should be considered in these decisions." 

I agree with him that decisions should consider the impact on the families of victims who are killed when the person convicted of the murder of their loved ones is released earlier than expected.  In Canada, an adult murderer must serve at least a minimum of 25 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. But Khadr was not an adult when he allegedly killed Sgt. Speer. He was a juvenile and in Canada, the law is quite clear. Such a juvenile can only serve a maximum of ten years in prison. Khadr has been incarcerated for the past 13 years. He certainly was eligible for parole and in my respectful opinion, the Canadian judges who dealt with this matter were correct in their decisions.  

The conditions of his bail is that he remain with his lawyer and his family, have no contact with his own family unless authorized and he must wear an ankle bracelet so that his whereabouts will always be known.

As to his appeal of his conviction, I am not going to hazard a guess as to the outcome but I have said it earlier in this article that my opinion, his chances of acquittal are slim at best. But even if he is still found guilty as charged, the US court hearing the appeal cannot increase Khadr’s sentence even if the US prosecutor requests it. But if the prosecutor is successful, expecting Canada to act on it is slimmer than that of Khadr’s chances of success.

If Khadr was an adult when he committed acts of terrorism, I would have hoped that he would have at least been imprisoned for the rest of his natural life. Further, I also believe that terrorists who murder innocent civilians should be executed. I said that in Caracas in 1980 and again in Milan in 1985 while addressing those two United Nations conferences as a speaker.  

UPDATE: October 2015----Khadr has been released on  parole and must live with his mother while he is on parole. 

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