Child To Be Tried At Gitmo

The United States is about to enter a sad, and quite likely criminal new chapter in its history.  Tomorrow the Obama administration will being its first trial of a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay

Omar Khadr was only nine when his father, a purported Al Qaeda financier, moved Khadr from Canada to Afghanistan and put him to work helping his Al Qaeda friends.  In 2002, when he was just 15, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan and accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier.  For that he’s been charged with a war crime.

The Khadr case is troubling from many fronts.  To begin with, the evidence presented so far seems to rest almost entirely on confessions extracted from Khadr.  Those confessions have long suspected of being the result of, at best, suspicious circumstances and at worst, torture. 

Also, as Daphne Eviatar points out, the crime of murdering a U.S. soldier is not a war crime because in war it is not a crime to target the other side’s soldiers.  As a civilian, rather than a member of any regular foreign army, throwing a grenade is a criminal act that could, and should, be prosecuted in a regular criminal.  Last but not least, the legality of the military commissions as a whole raises serious issues, some of which Khadr’s questions presented just last week to the Supreme Court.  They argue that the commissions are unconstitutional since they target only “aliens”–people who are not U.S. citizens.  This is currently an open question of law almost guaranteeing that if Khadr is convicted his case will snake through the appellate process for years.

And those are just the legal problems with the case.

International law dictates that a child captured in combat is to be treated as a victim, not a soldier.  Those “child soldiers” are to be offered rehabilitation while in custody and eventually repatriated home.  Khadr reportedly has relatives who still live in Canada, was never offered those options.

Khadr has spent the last eight years in a cell in Guantanamo.  Now 23, he’s turned from a scared child willing to cooperate with interrogators in any way possible to a defiant young man who has threatened to boycott his own trial because he thinks the whole military commission process is a sham.

Can you blame him?  Had Khadr been held in the United States he would have been tried and either convicted or released by now.  Instead, he’s sat isolated in a cell in Cuba.  Human Rights First has been observing the military commission process and has reported on the injustices and inefficiency in the entire process.  It is almost too much for words.

There is no doubt that addressing international terrorism calls for a way of rethinking traditional legal regimes and, when necessary, adapting those regimes to suit our changing times.  I cannot think of a single reason why any rethinking would include holding, and trying as a war criminal, a child.

Photo courtesy U.S. Army via Flickr


Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

It's tragic that children were drug into this (or any) war...but at the age of knows it is wrong to kill people...even if they have been preached to that killing 'the enemy' is what they are expected to do.
But do we lock up every one in a war who killed one of the 'enemy?'

Lin Moy
Lin M6 years ago

I have to feel sorry for the children being brought into this war. You learn from family and the people around you. If you are kidnapped it says " I didn't plan to do this in my life, I was forced". It's a shame the kids can't just be kids. They need to go to a safe place and relearn how to be human again.

Deborah L.
Deborah Lashever7 years ago

This is really complicated and one simple answer is just a ridiculous concept. These issues need to be considered with a high degree of overview of the manifestation of the entire simplex.

These very young people have been used, coerced, abused, tortured, brow beaten, brainwashed, etc to the degree that most of us could never conceive. Their parents, siblings, best friends are murdered in the most bloody way possible right in front of them at the beginning of their captivity in the army to show them that they need to behave. Many times they themselves are made to perform cold blooded murder of their parents, siblings or best friends, or if they do not it is made very clear that they will be violently raped and tortured to death in the most horrible way possible, or they are tricked being told their parents/siblings will not be hurt if they obey and kill their best friends, and then they are. And killed and raped and tortured in front of them.

These kids are innocents. They are doing the best they can. They should have been protected in their sweet childhood. They were not. It is our work to help them rehabilitate themselves the little we can at this point. They need love and care and compassion from us. They have experinced the worst that humanknd can produce. Can we spare a little kindness?

Gloria C.
gloria c7 years ago

could things get any worse?

Jelica R.
Jelica R7 years ago

The link didn't appear. Here it is:

Jelica R.
Jelica R7 years ago

There's a petition to Canadian government here:

Bring Omar Kadhr Home

I am surprised it is not placed on the right handbar with other petitions.

Jessica H.
Jessica H7 years ago

michael- [all they got to do is use " children " and they will get away with murder.]
So if the children are indeed being "used", is it then justified for us to decide their death upon the actions they were forced to commit? We need to back up from this one situation to see the whole picture clearly.

Sue D.
Susan L7 years ago

OK - though I do still stand by my prior comment as to the scientific findings regarding the maturity of an adolescent brain, I also think Stephen A. has made a good point in his previous 2 comments. Rules of war can be complicated and both sides must be accountable for their failings. The USA has not, in many instances, been accountable for their lack of following the rules either. It IS a disgrace that any war uses children. But in all cases involving children's culpability, I think there SHOULD be psychiatric and mental evaluations before any adult punishments are imposed.

Stephen A.
Past Member 7 years ago

Leni, please read the previous posts before commenting.

The use of a weapon after surrender is a war crime, as engagement in combat without sufficient identification to differentiate between combatant and civilian. The first is what he is being tried for and the second is a crime of which the entire Taliban force is guilty.

Just to be clear about the severity of the first crime, if soldiers cannot count upon the enemy honouring a surrender, they will not be able to accept any surrender. Even a wounded bleeding soldier on the ground can fire a gun or throw a grenade. To ensure their own safety, they will take no prisoners. As for the second, the result when soldiers cannot differentiate between enemies and civilians should be obvious: dead civilians.

The rest was addressed in my previous post.

Michael A.
Michael A7 years ago

Ok, so lets make him a war hero, give him a medal and ship him home with a million dollar compensation and the official excuses of the US government.

Bet the family of the US soldier he killed will be thrilled.

Bin Laden and the Talibans will be happy too cause now they know that all they got to do is use " children " and they will get away with murder.