The “Khadr effect” -

The “Khadr effect”

Why Stephen Harper is so afraid of Omar Khadr


091112_slide_khadrAmong the bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs, it’s known as the “Khadr effect”—the fear that sticking up for a Canadian citizen arrested in another country may come back to haunt the government. The cautionary phrase dates back to 1995, when the World Trade Center was still standing and the Khadr name meant something only to a handful of spies at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

In those days, Toronto’s Khadr clan was shuttling between Pakistan and Afghanistan, mingling with al-Qaeda elites and dabbling in “charity” work. In November of that year, when a bomb leveled the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad and killed 16 people, the family patriarch, Ahmed Said Khadr, was among the suspects rounded up by Pakistani authorities. Ottawa has never forgotten what happened next.

Khadr proclaimed his innocence, embarked on a hunger strike, and ended up in a hospital. His case became front-page news in Canada—just as Jean Chrétien was flying to the region for a trade mission. Under pressure from the press, the prime minister took time out of his busy schedule to meet the suspect’s wife and children, and made sure to broach the case with Pakistan’s late leader, Benazir Bhutto. A few months later, Ahmed Khadr was a free man—kissing the ground when his plane landed in Canada.

He didn’t stay long. By 1998, the family was back in Afghanistan, living in the same compound as Osama bin Laden. In 2001, Khadr’s name was added to a United Nations’ terrorism blacklist, and when the Twin Towers were attacked, the U.S. branded him a “primary suspect” and froze his assets. Chrétien, it turned out, had gone to bat for a very bad man.

Al-Qaeda’s senior Canadian was never again in police custody; he was killed in a gunfight with Pakistani troops in 2003, and eulogized as a martyr. But his narrow escape back in the mid-1990s is not without some poetic justice. The chill he left behind in the Department of Foreign Affairs—the so-called “Khadr effect”—has been most detrimental to one person in particular: his beloved son, Omar.

Arrested on the battlefields of Afghanistan at the tender age of 15, Omar Khadr is famously accused of throwing a grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer, a decorated U.S. army medic, in July 2002. Now 23, he has been locked inside the American prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for more than seven years. He is the only western citizen still there—and to a large extent, he has his father to thank. The Canadian government learned the hard way that lobbying for a Khadr is bad public policy, and the feds are petrified of being bitten twice.

“All it takes is a phone call—a call between the prime minister and the president,” says Dennis Edney, Khadr’s ever-relentless lawyer. “I’m told that the Americans don’t have any concerns about sending Omar back to Canada. All the pressure is coming from Stephen Harper.”

Which brings us to tomorrow’s hearing in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, a showdown that will decide whether the prime minister has a legal duty to ask Barack Obama a question he absolutely dreads: Will you please transfer Omar Khadr back to Canada?

In all the years Omar has been stuck behind bars, Ottawa has never once—not under the Liberals, and not under the Conservatives—asked our neighbour to send him home. The feds have simply stuck to the same old talking point: Omar is facing serious charges in the U.S., and we respect the American justice system. That may be true. But it’s also true that Ottawa doesn’t want to ask for Khadr back because they’re terrified the Americans just might say yes.

And then what? Do we put him on trial here—a 15-year-old boy who was following the orders of his radical father, and has already spent one-third of his life in prison? Or do authorities simply let him reunite with his infamous family and their radical sympathizers? The concern is obvious. Khadr Effect: Part II.

“The only concern the Americans have is with his family,” Edney says. “But I have talked to Omar about that, and he has agreed not to go back to his family—and the family has agreed not to push it.” The family, of course, needs no introduction. Zaynab, Omar’s outspoken older sister, was under investigation in Canada for suspected terrorist links, and had her laptop seized by the RCMP, while Abdullah, one of his brothers, is facing extradition to the U.S. on charges he smuggled guns for the bin Laden network. Another brother was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the same firefight that killed his father. But Edney insists Omar is nothing like the others. “When you talk about the Khadr brand, there is no distinction,” he says. “But there is not an ideological thought in Omar’s brain. He’s just a kid who wants to be a doctor and who wants to get on with his life. I’ve never met a more peaceful guy.”

In the months after his arrest, the Americans considered young Khadr a prized catch, a treasure trove of intelligence about his father’s al-Qaeda connections. The skinny teenager reportedly “sang like a bird” during hours of interrogations and later admitted to tossing the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer. Khadr has since claimed he was tortured into confessing—the harsh treatment, he says, included sleep deprivation, short shackling, and threats of rape—but the Bush Administration was still determined to make an example of their Canadian captive. While other Gitmo prisoners were being shipped back to their home countries, Khadr was charged with murder and ordered to stand trial.

Today, however, Omar is looking less and less like a murderer. Newly released photographs reveal that he was badly wounded and buried under the rubble of a U.S. air strike at the same time he supposedly threw the grenade. Even if he did kill Sgt. Speer, his age—15 years old—means he was a child soldier at the time, and not legally responsible for his actions. And killer or no killer, seven years in a legal black hole is probably punishment enough.

The White House may reach the same conclusion in the coming days. President Obama has promised to close the Guantanamo jail by the end of January, and a task force is now poring over every case to figure out the best option for each prisoner. As for Khadr, two possibilities loom: trial by military commission, or trial by civilian court on U.S. soil. A decision is expected as early as Monday.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court of Canada is mulling a third possibility: repatriation. If the judges side against Ottawa, Stephen Harper will have no choice but to ask the Americans to return Khadr. Such a request won’t guarantee his release—the U.S. is under no obligation to agree—but it will certainly alter the playing field. “If we are successful, then Obama has something to hang his hat on,” Edney says. “And Harper just washes his hands. He can say: ‘I’ll ask—I can’t tell you how nicely I’m going to ask—but I’ll ask.’”

Friday’s hearing will mark the second time Canada’s highest court has weighed in on the saga. Last year, the judges ruled the government violated Khadr’s Charter rights by dispatching CSIS agents to grill him in 2003 and 2004, at a time when prisoners had no access to lawyers or independent courts. To compensate for the Charter breach, Ottawa was ordered to release all the Canadian evidence gathered during those CSIS interrogations—including hours of videotape that show a 16-year-old Khadr pointing to his bullet wounds and begging the unnamed spy to take him home.

Along with the recordings, Khadr’s legal team also obtained a damning memo written in 2004 by a Canadian bureaucrat, who said Gitmo guards subjected the teenager to three weeks of sleep deprivation in order to make him “more amenable and willing to talk” to visiting Canadian officials. He described the technique as the “frequent flyer program”—moving Khadr from cell to cell every three hours for three agonizing weeks. Armed with that revelation, his lawyers went back to Federal Court and claimed a further Charter breach. A judge agreed, but this time, the restitution was much more significant: Ottawa was ordered to ask the Americans to repatriate Khadr.

In August, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the ruling. “Canada cannot avoid responsibility for its participation in the process at the Guantanamo Bay prison by relying on the fact that Mr. Khadr was mistreated by officials of the United States, because Canadian officials knew of the abuse when they conducted the interviews, and sought to take advantage of it,” the appeals court wrote, in a 2-1 decision. “While Canada may have preferred to stand by and let the proceedings against Mr. Khadr in the United States run their course, the violation of his Charter rights by Canadian officials has removed that option.”

The Supreme Court will have the final word.

Federal lawyers will argue that the business of foreign affairs belongs to elected officials, not the courts, and governments have no legal duty to fight for the freedom of every citizen arrested abroad. Demanding the return of Omar Khadr, they say, will set a dangerous precedent. Ottawa’s lawyers may also point out—as they did in front of the Federal Court of Appeal—that if Harper did ask for Khadr’s return, there is “one chance in a million” that the U.S. would even agree.

But until he actually asks, we’ll never know.


The “Khadr effect”

  1. How the hell do you know that Harper is afraid of this idiot? Work on your headlines a bit more. The press these days sure think they know everything about our political leaders thoughts, fears, truths etc. Here is a clue: You do not know. Shut up already.

    • you shut up! no one made you read this ya dick.

  2. This is the most important part of the article
    “Today, however, Omar is looking less and less like a murderer. Newly released photographs reveal that he was badly wounded and buried under the rubble of a U.S. air strike at the same time he supposedly threw the grenade. Even if he did kill Sgt. Speer, his age—15 years old—means he was a child soldier at the time, and not legally responsible for his actions. And killer or no killer, seven years in a legal black hole is probably punishment enough.”

  3. " Ottawa's lawyers may also point out—as they did in front of the Federal Court of Appeal—that if Harper did ask for Khadr's return, there is “one chance in a million” that the U.S. would even agree."

    What an utterly pathetic excuse! It's shameful and embarassing!
    Man, what a truly bizarre story.

  4. There is a growing schism in Canada with cultural Marxists on one side and those wanting stability, predictability and confidence, on the other. The Marxist are the politically correct camp, and part of their strategy, according to Antonio Gramsci, is to undermine societies values by turning them into their antithesis. In other words black changes to white,. With this mindset, if one doesn't want kadar back because they feel he is a security threat, the left will call one a racist or use some other type of derogatory statement in order to intimidate you, silence you and allow them to control the language.

    • Cultural marxists! Yeesh…that’s a new label…I prefer respecters of the law. You’re right…it isn’t as catchy.

    • Ya know, we have jails here too. If he committed a crime and is a danger to society, we do have place to put him to deal with both those issues. If not, then he shouldn't be in jail. This has nothing to do with Marxism, but simple rule of law.

    • Actually the split is between those who support the rule of law and those who prefer the rule of Harper. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of the rule of law I can suggest some readings starting with the Magna Carta. My copy is in latin but I am sure translated versions can easily be found on the internet. The gist of the thing is that even kings 9(or would be kings) are subject to the laws of the land. They cannot pick and choose which ones they will or wont enforce. If the PM or CSIS are not happy with the fact that they are not only subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (aka the law of the land) then they can go looking for jobs that they may be more qualified for. The PM can always go back to the NCC. As for the incompetants at CSIS, I am sure the are lots of Malls around looking for security personnel though I am not sure the average CSIS agent could meet the high standards required of Mall Cops.

      • As a realist you seem to have blinkers. The previous and continuous errors of Canada to shelter and support terrorists has to stop at some point. Canada's own laws seem to be working against the rights of the non-terrorist population. Why does Canada need this terrorist and his terrorist family? Giving terrorist Canadian citizenships is immoral and goes against my Charter rights. I do applaud the PM and the government for at least this one time standing on the right side of the equation. We don't need Kader and his kind. We have more terrorists than we can use.

    • By the way the rule of law is as fundamental a principle of our society as is representative democracy and invidual freedom. When you attack it or any other aspect of the country you attack the country. On remembrance day we remember those who died to defend these principles. Have we become such cowards that we would surrender these democratic freedoms from fear of a young man who may or may not be guilty of a crime (there have been many accusations but as yet no conviction) when our fathers and grandfathers did not flinch from confronting the armies and navies of tyrants in the defence of these same freedoms? I served in our forces in defence of these principles. I find it disturbing that so many of my fellow citizens prefer tyranny to the freedoms others have bought with their lives.

      • Thank you "once a soldier" from another ex CF vet. Amazing how short-sighted many of our countrymen have become.

    • I suppose that if I am to be characterized as a "cultural Marxist", that makes you Dieter a "cultural fascist". My father fought against the fascist (Nazi) forces of Germany in the second world war so that even clowns like you have the freedom to write this type of tripe.

      • Well said knuckle head, But if you understand the concept, you'd know that the Marxist want us to regress to a totalitarian state. The objective of a cultural Marxist is the same as a communist like Fidel, but the means are very different. have you ever read any of Linda McQuaig's dribble? She is totally fixated on the wrongs of capitalism, the errors of the market, and the position of the rich. Not once has she ever viewed like behind the iron Curtain. I have and it isn't pretty!!

        • McQuaig's criticism of unrestrained capitalism is right on the mark. As it has been practised in the US, capitalism has spread the gap between rich and poor that can never be healed. 99% of the wealth of that nation being held by less than 5% of the population is not only outrageous, but immoral. The deregulation of the financial sector that started under the reign of Reagan has caused not only a meltdown there, but the rest of the world. Right-wing ideologues such as yourself have never been on the receiving end of economic meltdowns to any great degree. It would do you the world of good to join the real working world for more than a summer job to experience what it's like for the majority of us. I am not saying that life in the Eastern Bloc was "pretty" or not wracked with greed at the top of the totalitarian gov'ts there, however the capitalist system as it has been practised in the US is only a world of smoke and mirrors. You can't shill for freedom and democracy while endorsing (or encouraging or preacticing) torture and illegal trials and have any semblance of ligitimacy.

  5. Ottawa's lawyers may also point out—as they did in front of the Federal Court of Appeal—that if Harper did ask for Khadr's return, there is “one chance in a million” that the U.S. would even agree. I have a feeling "one-in-a-million" is a major underestimate of the odds.

    But it's also true that Ottawa doesn't want to ask for Khadr back because they're terrified the Americans just might say yes. I have a feeling this is closer to reality.

    • I agree.

  6. Can the canadian government exercise the notwithstanding clause in this matter?. I truly think that the foreign affairs of a country should be left to the elected officials, and not to a group of people with no accountability for their decisions.

    • The notwithstanding clause? You don't actually understand how Canada works, do you?

  7. eneri whoever takes him back.Take him into your house.

    • No, we’ll put him in yours. Unless you promise never, ever to use that worn out, tiresome old line again.

  8. This is a very well-written, fair and knowledgeable article.

  9. Dieter–you are bang on. The same cancer permeats the Americans Presidents Washington 'mafia'. Unfortunately I think we are going to wind up in some sort of civil war in North America. The left are so far out there is hardly any talking anymore. We are some of the most privileged people in the world yet super-rich American Hollywood types feel the need to suck up to Castro against their own country. Unbelivable madness.

    • Yet there was a lot of open debate and communication during the GWB era?

      • No one has a monopoly on being an a-hole. But at least in an non politically correct democracy, freedom of expression can offer a beacon of hope that the truth may come out every now and then. try speaking you mind in Cuba, and if the secret police don't like what they hear, you could be charged with political insanity and locked up. Try speaking your mind behind closed doors in communist Czechoslovakia. All of a sudden you hear a knock on the door, the secret police arrive and direct everyone to a different room. They interview each person and ask what they were discussing. Then they compare notes. This is political correctness to the nth degree!!

  10. Why do Liberals feel the need to support terrorists and terrorist organizations?

  11. Well…as of a few minutes ago the news is that poor little Omar will be leaving Gitmo and heading to US soil to face charges in a US military court.

    I sort of doubt with those plans already in place Obama is going to give Omar a "get out of jail free" card anytime soon, even if our Supreme court rules that we have to ask for one. One of Obama's main weaknesses within the US is that he has been labeled "soft on terrorism." The last thing he'll want to do is foster that impression by setting Omar free. (And if you're thinking Omar will see the inside of a courtroom in Canada…well, he probably will but only as the litigant, not the defendant. $$$)

    Remember the fallout from Ghadafi and Libya for giving a "hero's welcome" to the "Lockerbie Bomber?" Imagine the backlash in the US if Omar is returned to his (inevitable) "hero's welcome" here at Pearson? You think "buy American" and "border security" are issues now? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

    • Ah finally I understand. Canadians can be sold out for fear of economic reprisal. Guilt or innocence are irrelevant. If you threaten us with economic sanctions and you can do whatever you want to our nationals. Forgive me for pointing out that even a vile dictator like Kim of North Korea has more self respect than that.

      • There's no "selling out" involved.

        He's been charged with a serious crime and should have his day in court against his accusers. Looks like that's what he's getting. Using the power of the government of Canada to "save" him from facing his day in court seems a foolhardy precedent to set.

        Let him go to trial. Don't like or trust "their" justice system to deliver the verdict you happen to wish for…so bring him home? Well…you'd better be prepared then to yank every Canadian out of just about every other jurisdiction in the world when they're charged with a crime. Any country who doesn't happen to meet all of Canada's legal standards will be deemed "unfit" to try a Canadian.

        I'm sure lots of Canadians would love to have this sort of "diplomatic immunity" to escape prosecution around the world…but I doubt it would do much for our standing in the world. But hey…maybe instead of sustaining our economy on international trade we could do it with international piracy and plunder eh matey?

        In any case…this is all a moot discussion. He's heading back to the US to face trial…as he should.

  12. One thing should be noted: the Taliban are currently defeating Nato and are likely to win. I wonder if they will set up kangaroo courts to try the defeated (us) once they are back in Kabul. Of course they will have to extradite Karzai from his villa on the French riviera where most western puppets retire. We are in the waning days of the western empire. The days when we could order the natives about at our whim are gone. We had a pretty good run though: five hundred years of lording it over everyone else was not to bad. I just hope our former subjects and slaves in Africa and Asia dont hold grudges.

    • You sound almost as though you are looking forward to the end of the western empire. I can see why. Those non-westernized nations are just so much more enlightened than we are.

  13. Kadr isn't a "Canadian citizen arrested in another Country" That's Conrad Black you are thinking of.Kadr is a viscous animal who voluntarily hauled himself off to bear arms ( and commit treason) against Canada and its allies in a theater of war that was none of his business to begin with. Harper is 100% to let him rot where he is and the author of this piece is to be commended for how he laughs in the face of ridicule

  14. Omar Kadr. Charles Ng. Human rights types choose the strangest symbols to rally around.

  15. You all see to forget he was a child of 15 at the time of arrest he was also so badly wounded by American soldiers during the fight he was expected to die. Think about it, other child soldiers in the world are recognized as being exploited by manipulative adults who abuse and threaten the children into committing horrific crimes. These children are being rehabilitated and given support so they can recover from this abuse. Why do you all think Khadr is so different to these other children?

    • Sigh…here we go again….and the definition that the International Criminal Court uses for Child Soldiers is Under 15,

      He is not a child soldier, how many times is this lie going to be repeated, including in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

      And logically, if he is, where are the criminal indictments for any one of a number of Al Queda operatives for using, recruiting etc child soldiers? Including his mother?

      I will say again that the definitions being used to charge Thomas Lubanga in th ICC regarding Child Soldiers are for UNDER 15. These are the only operative definitions being used in the world today, though many wish the age raised.

  16. How do we ''REPATRIATE'' someone who had no ''PATRIOTIC'' feelings for our wonderful Country Canada in the first place ?? How do you ''REPATRIATE'' someone who,s ''PATRIOTISM'' lies with Allah and Islam and who thinks it,s just peachy to kill innocent people in their names and go to heaven and collect their vestal virgins ?? How do you ''REPATRIATE'' someone who,s whole family were only Canadians for the convenience of a Passport and all the wonderful rights it holds ??
    Why is it that Canada has to prove our ''LOYALTY '' to these people who spoke our Oath of Allegiance with as much sincerity as wiping dog crap from ones shoe and continually since have done nothing for Canada only to bring shame and terror and suspicion upon other Muslim Canadians and to publicly voice their hatred and scorn for us ?? Why should Canada prove anything to them when they,ve done SQUAT for Canada but shame us ??

  17. so according to you;although he killed someone;the americans should go soft on him;cuz he was a (child soldier) of only 15 yrs of age!!when do 15 yr olds start taking responsibilty for what they do?? do you also think (cuz he was only 15)that he coulnt understand the hatred that his immediate family had against christianity or the teachings of his koran book??? in my beliefs (yuo do the crime;you do the time;period!! enough excuses for these 15 yr olds! if he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt;let him rot in prison;this (nicer man that you say that you have never met!! what a gullable one you are;how did bernie madoff miss you??

    • Did you ever hear of the presumption of innonce until proven guilty? The kid has never had a trial. He was probably tortured by the Americans. And the evidence suggests that he was framed for murder.

    • Regardless of what you think, Canada is a signatory to the UN Converntion on Child Soldiers and has chosen to ignore its obligations to that charter. The federal gov't has chosen to ignore every Canadian court that has ruled that Khadr should be repatriated (and rehabilitated) here. Some democracy huh? My father didn't go to Europe in 1944 to defend the rights and freedoms of SOME Canadians; he fought (as did many others) for the rights and freedoms of ALL Canadians, including those of Omar Khadr.

  18. A point of clarification. Chertien did not intervene on behalf of the elder Khadr other that to request a fair trial for him. The request was granted and the Pakistani police released him on lack of evidence. There is a conscious effort to misrepresent this ordeal. It is not unreasonable for heads of state to demand habeas corpus for detained nationals.

  19. child soldiers are beaten, abused, sometimes forced to kill their parents, drugged…. Is Khadr really a child soldier?

  20. Why are our all the people in gov. so willing to give admited killer a chance.At 15 years old he knew it was wrong to kill acourding to Ala. All the bleeding hearts should go back to Afghanistan, and see how thy like it Let the US courts deal with this admited killer. Too much effort spent on these terorsts . Canada is too soft on them no wonder all kinds terorsts come here. They just have to cry, and our bleeding hearts for give everying they did. Get real befor it is to late

  21. The Gov should deport all the Kader klan to their home country where they will be delt with , in the right way .We as a country have spent way too much on this Family of terorsts get the out of this country.Would better spent money

  22. It's a nice story and congratulations for getting through the move and the goodbyes.
    bulk mailing

  23. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice article

  24. As an immigrant I feel priviledged and grateful that I was accepted into Canada. My Canadian passport clearly outlines that should I go back to my country of birth and get caught in any political concern Canada will not be there to support me. If the Kadr family ran back to fight or support their cause or belief then tough, tough. They should suffer the consequences on their own and at their expense no matter how old they are. While it is easy to get sucked into the emotional sympathy tears of others, think twice of the possible consequences. Good for you Canada !!