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Liveblogging the Khadr Committee – Children’s Crusade, redux


 

Last week, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights got a
whirlwind tour of the looking-glass world of U.S. military justice,
courtesy of William Keubler, the American army lawyer assigned to
defend Omar Khadr, who described a parallel legal system that seemed to
owe as much to Lewis Carroll as George Orwell, and implored Canada to
come to the defence of his child soldier client. This afternoon, the
committee is likely to hear a similar message from the Canadian Bar Association, which will be represented at the
table by Lorne Waldman, who headed up Maher Arar’s legal team for the
O’Connor Report, and who has repeatedly condemned the current (and
former) government for refusing to intervene on Khadr’s behalf, making
Canada the only Commonwealth country not to stand up for the rights of
citizens caught in the jurisdictional crossfire of the “War on Terror”.


12:50:55 PM

So sorry, y’all, for the eerie silence emanating from these parts this
morning; there were, shall we say, technical difficulties plaguing ITQ
Central this morning, with the ultimate result of delaying this
morning’s committee lookahead, which will hopefully go up later this
afternoon. Right now, though, I’m waiting for the gavel to drop at the
Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which is holding a second
hearing into the case for (and against) Omar Khadr, and how Canada has
handled the situation thus far. With a few minutes to go before the
chair drops the gavel, there’s lots of congenial handshaking and
backclapping between witnesses and committee members; it’s a very civil
atmosphere, although I suspect that might change once the Q&A
portion of the afternoon gets underway.


1:04:02 PM

And we’re off! With less than an hour to go, the chair reminds members
to keep their questions as short and succinct and possible; he
apologizes in advance to the witnesses for not being able to give them
as much time as they deserve, being distinguished and eminent experts
in their respective fields.


1:07:41 PM

First up: Canadian Bar Association president Bernard Amyot, who notes
that these are “trying times” for the rule of law, particularly when it
comes to Guantanamo Bay, where Khadr has been held for over six years,
seemingly immune from the protection of his rights by the rule of law,
or his own government. Calling the current situation an “illegal
process,” Amyot reiterates the message underlying Keubler’s
presentation to committee last week; This is not about the guilt or
innocence of Omar Khadr, but a prison that is seen as a “travesty” of
the rule of law by legalists around the world. “Human rights must not
be sacrificed at the altar of security,” he notes.


1:13:26 PM

It’s probay worth repeating at this point that, as Keubler pointed out
last week, Canada is the only Western country that has failed to
repatriate citizens detained at Gitmo.


1:15:04 PM

After Amyot wraps up, immigration/human rights lawyer David Matas
follows up with his views; he points out that the government is
violating its own policies on providing aid to Canadians detained by
foreign governments, and also recommends repatration, pointing to the
British experience.

Most of the committee members are listening carefully to the witnesses,
although on the government side – represented by Ron Canaan and Jason
Kenney – one MP is leafing through the presentation, and the other is
shuffling his papers officiously, presumably in preparation for the
first round of questions.

Speaking of questions, here comes Irwin Cotler with the first one of
the afternoon: He asks what will happen if Canada doesn’t intervene on
Khadr’s behalf, and whether the US might reject any such request for
repatriation.

Amyot gives a few of the reasons why the CBA, among other groups, is
deeply sceptical of the likelihood that Khadr will received a fair
trial, given the hamstringing of the defence as standing operating
procedure within the military tribunal system, as well as problems with
disclosure. As for the argument that the Americans won’t let him go,
well – as far as Amyot is concerned, that could change dramatically if
there was political intervention by the Canadian government. “It’s up
to adults to protect children,” he reminds the committee – even — or
perhaps especially – former child soldiers facing life imprisonment or
death.


1:26:14 PM

Joanne Deschamps recalls that, as per Keubler, the military tribunal
continues to treat Khadr as an adult, even though he was legally a
child until very recently, and wonders if it would be different if he
were tried by Canada.

Amyot notes that there are options, as far as how he would be treated
in Canada; Waldman notes that the Youth Criminal Justice Act would
apply — oh, that’ll go over well with the Conservatives; they’re such
fans of youth justice under normal circumstances — and lays out what
might happen.

Ultimately, he admits, Khadr mighe be treated as an adult in Canada,
depending on how the courts ruled. In Gitmo, however, that was never
even considered, he notes: Khadr was arrested, interrogated and
detained as an adult, with no thought to treating him as a youth
regardless of his age at the time of the alleged offence.


1:31:50 PM

Wayne Marston notes that it’s a rare event for parliamentarians to
admit that they need expert advice; usually, MPs pretend that they
already know everything about the subject, but in this case, it’s clear
that they don’t. He then goes off on a tangent about common sense not
being common anymore, and how anyone can see Khadr is a child soldier,
drawing a comparison to Maher Arar before the chair gently nudges him
back on topic, and reminds him that the clock is ticking.

Chastened, an apologetic Marston wraps things up by asking whether this
government is trying to make an example of Omar Khadr. “You’ll have to
ask the Prime Minister about that,” says Amyot, and then goes onto
point to several things that might back up that theory.


1:36:42 PM

An visibly nettled Jason Kenney — who will, apparently, once
again be defending his government’s position on Khadr — reminds the room, somewhat acerbically, that the Conservatives have
had a consistent view on the issue since the beginning. Unlike, he
notes, the previous Liberal administration, during which Cotler
actually sat around the cabinet table when the policy on Khadr was
originally decided.

The witnesses seem a bit bemused by his argument, and the discussion
goes back and forth, eventually moving onto the “spirit” of the
convention on child soldiers – to which Canada is a signatory. Waldman
once again tries to explain that Khadr could be charged under Canadian
law for terrorist acts committed anywhere in the world, if there was
evidence to do so.

Amyot points out that CSIS has gleaned “a lot of information” on Khadr,
and may be best placed to decide whether there is evidence to charge
him; I find it hard to believe that Waldman, at the very least, would
be all that enthusiastic about putting Khadr’s fate in the hands of the
same agency responsible for the extraordinary rendition of Maher Arar
to Syria.


1:44:33 PM

Bernard Patry wants to know what happened to all those people who were
repatriated by their respective governments – were they tried?
Convicted? And would the US even let Khadr go?

David Matas notes that this is why the habeas corpus litigation is so
crucial to his fate; at the moment, American courts can’t tell the
military to release detainees, although that could change, depending on
cases currently under dispute.

Amyot stresses that, even if Khadr is repatriated, it wouldn’t mean he
would be “free as a bird” — he may face charges under the
Anti-terrorism Act.


1:47:39 PM

Oh, oh; fisticuffs may be imminent: Cotler wants to set the record straight, as far as Jason
Kenney’s claim that he had initially supported the current policy on
Khadr; he, in fact, has been writing about the illegality of Gitmo
since 2002. So there. Kenney looks unmoved, although he does point out
that he said three prime ministers, which would be a plausible defence if he hadn’t also mentioned that Cotler had personally sat in cabinet.

He then asks about the contention that Khadr, as an illegal combatant,
shouldn’t be protected by Geneva, and David Matas explains why he
doesn’t find that a “persuasive argument.” Neither, one gets the
feeling, does Cotler.


1:50:34 PM

Deschamps asks a question that is eating away at almost everyone
watching this meeting: why is Canada the only Western country to
abandon its citizens to Gitmo? David Matas doesn’t know, but he
suspects it would actually be in the long term American interest for
Canada to challenge the legitimacy of Gitmo, given the external – and
internal – pressures to close it down. She and Amyot debate the contradiction between Canada’s reputation as a
champion of human rights, both international and for its citizens
abroad, and its lack of concern for Omar Khadr; everyone pretty much
agrees that it is an embarrassment, and a “black eye” for Canada.


1:55:46 PM

Jason Kenney, who has been watching bootfacedly from the other side of
the table, really does look thoroughly unhappy to be here; he once
again takes a run at Cotler, and calls it “slightly disingenuous” for
him to claim that the current government has chanced the policy on
child soldiers – which he always refers to as “alleged child soldiers
between the ages of fifteen and eighteen.” Clearly mindful of the
Sierra Leone precedent, he suggests there is a difference between
children rounded up at gun point and forced into battle, and a
brainwashed son serving at the behest of his father. Not surprisingly,
none of the lawyers are willing to concede; there are different
gradients of responsibility, yes, but it’s up to the judge to decide
whether a youth should be charged, and tried as an adult. Waldman again
points to the parallel youth justice system, as it currently opeates in
Canada.

Amyot then interjects to condemn Kenney’s remarks as needlessly
partisan, and scolds him for injecting politics into the discussion;
this is not a Liberal or a Conservative problem, he reminds the
committee.


2:02:34 PM

The last question goes to Marston, who once again wonders why Canada
won’t take action; Matas, again, stresses that this is not about what
Khadr may or may not have done, but the principle. Matas also chides
Kenney – although not by name – for resorting to partisan sniping over
what is a far more fundamental issue of human rights.


 

Liveblogging the Khadr Committee – Children’s Crusade, redux

  1. So Mr. Cotler didn’t “support” total inaction on the Khadr file, but was too busy writing about the illegality of Guantanamo to intercede on behalf of the Canadian teenager detained there. Do I have that right, Kady?

    At least Bill Graham’s big enough to admit the error: “Where we should have been more vigilant was to have done what the Australians and the British did and said, ‘We have a citizen there and we have an obligation to ensure that that citizen is getting the full international rights that person is entitled to.'”

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