It’s a pity, really, that the Khadr hearings always seem to be shoehorned into the lunch hour, although I guess that’s by design, since subcommittees have to work around the schedule for the full committee. Still, you always come away with the feeling that members are frustrated by all those questions they didn’t have time to ask.
Scott Reid is chairing the committee again. I don’t see Jason Kenney, which is odd because he’s been taking the lead for the government up until now. Maybe he’s off apologizing for another historic wrong like the head tax or internment camps. I wonder if the Jason Kenney of the future will wind up apologizing for Canada’s failure to protect a child soldier from the machinations of the American military justice system.
Reid is muttering worriedly about quorum – which, for a subcommittee, can be as little as four, provided there is at least one government and one opposition member present. So far, the only ones here are Wayne Marsden – the NDP MP who spearheaded this study in the first place – and, for the Conservatives, David Sweet. Oh, and some woman from the Bloc Québécois, who just this second walked into the room, and is wearing a very cute burnt peach jacket.
I guess quorum is actually three, because the gavel just went down, and the meeting is on, despite the fact that there’s not a single Liberal here. Hey, Liberals! Get down here!
The representative from Amnesty International kicks off her joint presentation with Kathy Vandergriff, who is here on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children. The Amnesty rep gives a recap of the story so far, calling Guantenamo a “highly coercive regime” where the presumption of innocence has been “systematically undermined.” Apparently, the former head of the US military tribunals resigned after concluding there was virtually no possibility of being able to conduct fair trial. She also reviews the legal battles over the legitimacy of Gitmo – past, and ongoing – and notes that the commissions lack independence from the government, and that information extracted under torture is admissable.
Moving on to the issue of the treatment of minors at Gitmo and as potential defendants against war crimes charges, she says much the same as the committee has heard from previous witnesses: they should be treated in accordance with international law, with a focus on rehabilitation, “under the rules of juvenile justice.”
I’m starting to wonder if there are any arguments – legal, or moral – that would justify failing to live up to the duty to protect Canadians and uphold international standards, not to mention all those protocols and treaties that we’ve ratified on child soldiers.
Oh, there we go – a Liberal finally turned up: Mario Silva, to be precise. He’s here just in time for the presentation by Kathy Vandergrift, who says she has three points to make to the committee: Omar Khadr does, indeed qualify as a child soldier; Canada’s current treatment of him does not comply with international protocol on the rights of the child (or any other international protocol, for that matter); and the goal should be to rehabilitate and reintegrate child combatants, including Khadr.
An interesting, possibly new, point: it is in the interest of the Canadian soldiers to support the protocols on child combatants. Although the military wasn’t initially all that keen on having different rules for juvenile prisoners when Canada first signed onto the protocol, they’ve since come to see why it makes sense, according to Vandergrift, particularly after encountering them on the battlefield.
Finally, she points to the global benefits of following the many international treaties and Security Council resolutions that Canada has previously signed and ratified. Otherwise, how can we be a good example for the rest of the world? Not to mention the fact that Canada has been a “champion” for the rights of children caught in armed conflict. The fact that our government won’t lift a finger in the Khadr case is steadily damaging our credibility within the international community.
Mario Silva leads off by asking if the witnesses agree that Canada has a “positive obligation” to comply with the protocols and conventions that it has ratified in the past; given the current state of quasi-international legality at Gitmo, and the commitments that we’ve made. How can the government be held to account and forced to take action?
Vandergrifte wants to see “more dialogue” amongst parliamentarians, and also with experts, advocates and even former child soldiers themselves.
With that, the Bloc Québécois is up. She quotes from Khadr’s lawyer, William Keubler, who noted that no child soldier acts voluntarily, and admits she is increasingly disturbed by the lack of intervention by the Canadian government. If you’re tuning into these hearings (or this issue) for the first time, Canada is the only Western country that has not repatriated its citizens from Gitmo. (Yes, the only one. I know, I was kind of shocked to hear that too.)
Amnesty Kathy suggests the committee hear from Craig Forcese, a law professor, who, coincidentally, will be appearing at the Senate anti-terrorism committe I’m covering this afternoon, on the possibility that Khadr could be put on trial in Canada. She notes that some children who were held at Gitmo – not Khadr, it goes without saying – were transferred to Camp Iguana, a nearby facility designed for juveniles. Not that Camp Iguana was an appropriate venue for child soldiers, she hastens to add. But it was at least a little bit better than the main camp.
The chair chides the Bloc for overly long questions – with just five minutes per member, it’s not hard to go over the limit. He moves to Marsden, who raises the spectre of the Nuremberg trials. Khadr was a “dutiful son” being punished for the sins of the father, he says.
Jason Kenney just arrived, which saves David Sweet from having to read the official PMO talking points on Khadr, which, frankly, are a little slim on substance. “We trust that due process is being followed; let the system work; and, by the way, you all love terrorists” is pretty much the gist.
Meanwhile, Marsden wonders what the global precedent will be if Canada fails to take action. Not great is the unsurprising answer, although Vandergrift sounds almost Pollyannaish for a moment when she points to the (rapidly shrinking) window of opportunity to set a good precedent by doing something now.
“There is time to do something about it,” she points out.
Aha – Sweet does get to ask the questions! Or rather, to read the preamble. He just made a rather unfortunate Freudian speech by asking if Khadr would, in fact, not face trial for the death of James Moore. Both Kathys make short work of his ostensible angst over the possibility that Khadr would be set free automatically, although they each point out there are, to put it kindly, growing doubts over the case against him, including questions over the inadmissability of evidence, which could have a different result in Canadian court. Even so, Amnesty Kathy reminds him that many child soldiers stand accused of doing terrible things.
David Sweet wonders why the witness said that this wasn’t an “exceptional” case, and plays the Khadr Family Circus card: They’re on the record “supporting” al-Qaeda. Vandergrift explains Khadr is not exceptional in the ranks of child soldiers. She wants a very specific plan that looks at the context, but this happens in other countries as well. It comes down to the best interest of the child.
Back to Mario Silva for what is going to have to be an even more succinct final round. He is now eating up still more time by prefacing his question by acknowledging that Khadr is accused of, and may have committed, a very serious crime. This is not about turning him loose, but about the best venue to adjudicate his culpability and, if necessary, impose consequences. Even if Khadr is found innocent, he points out, he could still be declared an enemy combatant and held indefinitely.
Really? Wow. I didn’t realize that the Kafka never stops when it comes to the Gitmo tribunal system.
Ooh, the committee gets another ten minutes – overtime, as it were – after members agree to one more round of questions. Joanne Deschamps, the Bloc Québécois MP whose name I couldn’t remember, asks if there are any human rights groups that haven’t condemned the current tribunal system. If there are, I bet the government would be happy to invite them to testify at this committee. But the answer seems to be no. Well, at least as far as the tribunal system. She’s not sure about the Khadr case particularly, but the “big ones” have expressed concern for years.
David Sweet continues his rather plaintive attempt to rationalize his empathy for the child soldiers of Sierra Leone with his apparent lack of it for child soldier Omar Khadr. He wonders what “path” the witnesses see for reintegrating Khadr, who is “now a man,” given the family situation. Vandergrift seems honestly thrilled he has made it to that point, as far as considering Khadr’s position, and notes this is “where the discussion should go.” That, she says, is where we should be focusing our attention.
Lane Layne Morris and Christopher James Spear Speer. Those are the names of the US soldiers who Omar Khadr is accused of having killed during a firefight. David Sweet wanted to put that on the record.
Marsden cannot understand how anyone can ignore for even one moment the fact Omar Khadr was a boy at the time. He recalls the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind, when the horsemen rode up with great excitement, talking of a war that would last for just a few days and end in easy victory for the Confederacy.
And with that, the meeting rolls to a pensive close.