I was so upset about the plight of Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr yesterday that I wrote to Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada, to ask him what he planned to do about it. His answer was quick and impressive and I’m posting it here:
Thank you for your email concerning the plight of Omar Khadr. It has long been the opinion of the federal NDP that Omar Khadr should be declared a child combatant as mandated by the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We have repeatedly asked why the Harper government will not bring this young person home. On March 11, 2008, NDP Human Rights Critic Wayne Marston presented a motion before the Subcommittee on Human Rights drawing attention to the detention and prosecution of Omar Khadr. The aim of the motion was to force the Canadian government to petition the American government for his repatriation.
Please find attached our most recent appeal to Prime Minister Harper by NDP Human Rights Critic Wayne Marston and NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin.
With regards to the recently released Khadr tape, Mr. Marston commented, “Democracy is very fragile, and it’s not up to a government to decide which Canadians deserve to have their rights protected. It’s up to the government to protect everybody’s rights as a Canadian citizen. It’s clear this boy’s rights were violated. It’s time to get him out of there.”
Again, our support for Omar’s return to Canada has been consistent. On June 14, 2007, along with current and former elected officials, nine Canadian non-governmental organizations, and over 110 academics and lawyers from across Canada, I signed a letter to Prime Minister Harper calling on the Canadian government to bring Omar Khadr home to Canada without delay. Please see the attached press release for more information.
We believe that this situation has been mishandled from the start and a resolution is long-overdue. Others agree.
“The Liberals are, of course, making a fuss about all this. But the problem for the Liberals is that when that video footage of Khadr’s Guantanamo interrogation was shot, Jean Chrétien was the prime minister of Canada. Defending the Liberals’ seriously late-breaking interest in the quality of treatment accorded Guantanamo prisoners is tricky, as Megapundit points out. This should, it seems to me, present an opportunity for the NDP, who could say — truthfully — “The Liberals let this happen and the Conservatives refuse to bring it to an end.” – Paul Wells, Macleans Blog, 17 July 2008 (http://blog.macleans.ca/2008/07/17/khadr-and-the-old-democrats/)
For more information on Canada’s role in this sordid affair, please visit: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/460866.
I appreciate knowing of your concern for human rights and want to assure you that New Democrats will continue to press the Conservative government for Khadr’s repatriation. Feel free to pass this email to anyone who may be interested.
All the best,
Jack Layton, MP (Toronto-Danforth)
Leader, Canada’s New Democrats
TIME TO BRING KHADR HOME: NDP
OTTAWA-Sixteen NDP MPs, including NDP Leader Jack Layton, today signed an open letter to Prime Minister Harper calling on the Canadian government to bring Omar Khadr home to Canada without delay.
The letter was signed by current and former elected officials, nine Canadian non-governmental organizations, and over 110 academics and lawyers from across Canada. Omar Khadr is the only Canadian detained by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. He is alleged to have killed a US soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old. Khadr has been detained for over five years without conviction. Two attempts to convict him under the military commission system instituted by the US have failed.
“Other countries have successfully advocated for their nationals who were detained at Guantanamo. Britain, France, Australia, among others, have succeeded in bringing home their citizens. Nothing less should be possible for a Canadian citizen”, said Joe Comartin, NDP Justice Critic. “Omar Khadr is a Canadian. And as a Canadian he deserves the support of Canada to ensure that he gets a fair and just trial, and is not further subjected to indefinite detention, questionable legal process or cruel and inhumane conditions. He must be brought home.”
“We must also not lose sight of the fact that Omar Khadr was 15 years old when the alleged crime took place. He is the only minor detained at Guantanamo,” said NDP Citizenship and Immigration Critic Bill Siksay. “There are significant concerns for his mental and physical health and well-being. Canada must take action on behalf of one of its children. This should be available to any Canadian citizen, no matter how unpopular his actions or how much we may disagree with the political opinions of his family.”
New Democrats support the call to have Omar Khadr returned to Canada where the legal consequences of his alleged actions should be adjudicated in the Canadian criminal justice system.
A copy of the letter and list of signatories is available at the Amnesty International Canadian Section web site at www.amnesty.ca.
Here’s Jack’s letter to Harper:
July 16, 2008
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
We are writing to you to express our extreme disappointment at your unwillingness to change your position on the case of Omar Khadr and refusal to work towards his repatriation after seeing the release of the CSIS interrogation tapes from 2003.
Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and as such, you and your government have a responsibility to protect him; all Canadian citizens whether they are at home or abroad deserve and depend upon their government for help.
The Conservative mantra has consistently stated that Omar Khadr faces very serious charges and that you are confident the American Military has and will continue to provide Khadr all of the rights and protections required to him under international law. However, the unjust treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay is well documented and key evidence released by the American Government says that Canadian official Jim Gould learned during a visit to Guantanamo on March 30, 2004, that Khadr had been put on a “frequent flyer program,” meaning he was not permitted to remain in any one location for more than three hours and was denied a healthy amount of sleep for more than 50 consecutive days.
Omar Khadr deserves a fair trial and this simply cannot be provided for him at the American Military Commissions. The commission is not a court of law, and even though you have denied that the Canadian legal system is capable of dealing with Mr. Khadr’s case, studies have been provided to the House of Commons’ Subcommittee on Human Rights, by legal experts that show this to be untrue.
Also, in the 2003 CSIS interrogation tapes, Khadr complains to officials that he did not receive proper medical attention even after requesting help, then cries under the belief that his countrymen do not care about him. These tapes do not show a dangerous terrorist, but instead a frightened boy pleading for help from Canadian officials. Why do you ignore the cries of this terrified and clearly abused young man? It would appear that the Canadian government is simply hiding behind the unpopularity of the al-Qaeda-linked Khadr family, instead of showing leadership and fairness to Omar Khadr.
While it is true that the former Liberal Government authorized the questioning of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo, and that you have not changed the governments’ actions or policy in regards to this citizen’s case, your government has been given a great deal of compelling evidence which clearly shows that you can no longer simply follow this faulty Liberal assessment; you have an obligation to protect the rights of this Canadian citizen.
We ask you to observe and commit to the following recommendations of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the NDP. We recommend that the Government of Canada:
· demand the immediate termination of Military Commission proceedings against Omar Khadr.
· express its objection to the position stated by the United States that it reserve the right to detain Omar Khadr as an “enemy combatant” notwithstanding an acquittal or the possible termination of proceedings.
· demand Omar Khadr’s release from US custody at Guantanamo Bay to the custody of Canadian law enforcement officials as soon as practical.
· call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate, and, if warranted, prosecute Omar Khadr for offences under Canadian law.
· take such measures as are necessary to ensure that possible security concerns are appropriately and adequately addressed upon the repatriation of Omar Khadr.
· take appropriate measures that are consistent with Canada’s obligations under Article 7 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and with Canadian law.
· call on the relevant Canadian authorities to ensure that an appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration program is developed for Omar Khadr, which takes into account legitimate security concerns. To the extent necessary, such a program could place judicially enforceable /conditions on Omar Khadr’s conduct.
In addition, the NDP has repeatedly called for the Canadian Government to have legislative supervision over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to ensure that justice, fairness and humanity is maintained by this agency. The interrogation of Omar Khadr by CSIS in 2003 is yet another example of why legislative oversight is necessary.
We simply ask that you abide by the international protocols and conventions to which Canada is a signatory and ensure that Omar Khadr is repatriated to Canada so that he may receive a fair trial and the rehabilitation that is so long overdue.
Wayne Marston, MP Joe Comartin, MP
Hamilton East – Stoney Creek Windsor – Tecumseh
NDP Human Rights Critic NDP Justice Critic
CC: Honourable David Emerson Deepak Obhrai
Minister of Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Secretary of
125 Sussex Drive Foreign Affairs
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2 200 Promenade du Portage
Gatineau, QC K1A 0G4
Please visit the Amnesty International Canada site for a form letter to send to Harper and pass it on to as many people as you can, or write your own letters. It’s late in the day for Omar Khadr, but it’s still not too late.
And many thanks to Jack Layton and the NDP.
UPDATE: See McLeans Blog