Omar Khadr remains a prisoner of partisan politics

Omar Khadr has reportedly reached a settlement with the Canadian government—but he remains caught in the crossfire of years of political point-scoring


If media reports are to be believed, Canada’s government is set to pay Omar Khadr and his lawyers a settlement somewhere north of $10 million to atone for its role in Khadr’s treatment during his detention following his wounding on an Afghan battlefield in 2002.

To give an idea of how controversial this decision will be, and how divisive the Khadr file has become, let’s parse that lead paragraph.

Conservatives, by and large, will be upset the words “convicted al-Qaeda terrorist” and “traitor” aren’t affixed to the front of Khadr’s name, as they will be outraged at the omission of the death of U.S. medic Christopher Speer, killed by a grenade loosed by Khadr’s hand.

Liberals, meanwhile, will be angry that “child soldier” and “Canadian citizen” are nowhere to be found, as they will be distressed at the omission that Khadr was detained illegally for years in Guantanamo Bay, under tough conditions and subject to extreme interrogations.

And both sides would be correct. Omar Khadr was fighting on behalf of al-Qaeda, as a 15-year-old, against a coalition that included Canadians, where he did kill Speer (although some dispute this fact), for which he was detained and interrogated at Guantanamo Bay, with Canadian government operatives participating at various points in the proceedings.

MORE: Scott Gilmore on changing his mind about Khadr

Further complicating matters is the fact that Liberal and Conservative governments presided over Khadr’s treatment by successive Republican and Democrat governments in the United States. What was started under Jean Chrétien’s Liberals and continued under his successor Paul Martin, and later inherited (and partially resolved) by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, now comes to a bitter end under Justin Trudeau.

It will be the most controversial money Trudeau ever spends, no matter how long he’s in power.

The point of exhuming all this complexity is to have it serve as a counterpoint to the “clarity” you’ll hear from partisans responding to the news who see Khadr as either an unrepentant terrorist, or an innocent child corrupted by a bastard father. If only it were that easy. He’s a combination of both.

But politics doesn’t like to be afflicted by complexity; it is best practiced in black and white, which is why Omar Khadr has lived the past 16 years of his life as a political pawn, subject to the partisan dynamic of the day.

MORE: From 2013, why a settlement was inevitable

I pushed Khadr around the chessboard too, in my time in Stephen Harper’s PMO, although by then the game was a stalemate. Jean Chrétien’s first move was to judge that sticking up for Khadr wouldn’t wash in George W. Bush’s post-9/11 America. Paul Martin did little to challenge that assumption. And with the die already cast, Harper didn’t want to challenge it, and only changed course with the arrival of the Democrat Barack Obama and his desire to close Guantanamo. Even then, it took years of foot-dragging and a string of losses in court for us to accept the reality and repatriate Khadr. After all, bringing him home willingly would have caused fury with the Conservative base; for them, we couldn’t be tough enough on him. We, like other political parties, were guilty of turning Omar Khadr into a talking point, instead of treating him like a (grossly flawed) human being.

As a spokesman (with no input to the decision-making), the government’s position was hard for me to defend. It’s not because I’m soft on terrorism; I supported George W. Bush and the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I think the death of Christopher Speer deserves sanction, and I think it’s tosh that Omar Khadr was some wide-eyed innocent. I also think Khadr’s family of convenient Canadians are an abusive, wretched stain on our noble citizenship.

But that doesn’t mean I have to feel comfortable about Khadr’s treatment at Guantanamo Bay, or the indifference of successive Canadian governments to his fate. No matter your opinion of him, Khadr was a citizen trapped in a machine none of us would equate with Canadian justice. It’s okay to think he was a terrorist and that he’s been treated shamefully. It’s okay to think that Khadr has served his time, but that he doesn’t deserve a single cent of taxpayer money for his troubles. Governments should have fought for a fair process, if not defend the merits of the man caught in it.

MORE: The uncommon friendship between Khadr, Amanda Lindhout, and Rinelle Harper 

Had Khadr been brought back to Canada after his capture in Afghanistan and locked up on Canadian soil, I would have been quite happy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. Just as it isn’t an option to resuscitate Christopher Speer and return him to his widow and family.

And while it would be nice to imagine an ending where Omar Khadr takes the settlement money and confounds his critics by giving it to Christopher Speer’s widow, this isn’t Hollywood. The news of the settlement—and the polarized reaction to it—just confirms there is no happy ending to be had. For anyone.

Andrew MacDougall is a London-based columnist and commentator. He was a director of communications to Stephen Harper.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post suggested that Khadr was detained after he was wounded in 2011. He was detained in 2002.


Omar Khadr remains a prisoner of partisan politics

  1. My personal opinion, when i saw Mr Khadr in a prison in a US penal colony in Cuba, i saw a ‘Canadian’ Boy being tortured(child soldier), i did not see a terrorist, i saw a confused young boy who didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and didn’t understand why he was the scapegoat and poster boy of terrorism. The sad thing of all this, will be, the conservatives now have fund raising tool and a message of fear and terror to drive in order to raise money for the next election(pitiful, just pitiful). If i were the cons, i would back off of this, the majority of Canadians know enough about this story to be able to put it all in the rear view. Harper cost Canada a reputation in the world over this, that Canadians would also like to keep in the rear view, and also keep the cons in the rear view for the next election and on..Good on the Government for its effort to reach out to this boy and help bring closure to one of the worst stains ever put on this country in the 20th century, along with Maher Arra..

      • We are a country of laws, democracy and effing compassion, not a Banana Republic.

    • I know Khadr’s story extremely well too, and I convinced he is nothing more than a terrorist, who grew up in a known terrorist family that took advantage of Canada and all what Canada has to offer. Your attack on the conservatives exemplifies the upside down world of the left, where GOOD becomes EVIL and EVIL becomes GOOD. The GOOD in this case is the Speers family who lost a loving father and husband to an evil perpetrator named Khadr who murdered and took advantage of Canada. It is so sad that in your Liberal eyes, that you see the exact opposite where someone no better than Karla Homolka is not only viewed as a victim, but a victim who deserves $10M of Canadian taxpayer money that every Canadian is forced to pay whether they want to or not. Absolutely SHAMEFUL.

      • Is there anyone you’re NOT bitter about?

      • Douglas Peng
        This is from the article:
        “It’s okay to think he was a terrorist and that he’s been treated shamefully. It’s okay to think that Khadr has served his time, but that he doesn’t deserve a single cent of taxpayer money for his troubles. Governments should have fought for a fair process, if not defend the merits of the man caught in it.”

        I think that’s rather naive, as someone who has taken a case to the Human rights tribunal and been manipulated by the mediator. Our legal system doesn’t fight for what’s fair. It is political, and it is about power, and it is about Canada’s reputation in front of the world.

    • I’m sorry but at 15 years of age you should know right from wrong and should know murder(which is what this is) is illegal you should pay the consequences. You should not be rewarded for committing a crime.

      • I fully agree. To show remorse for killing Mrs. Speer’s husband, Khadr should graciously give her every penny fro his Canadian settlement.

        • Why? Mr. Scheer was actively trying to kill Khadr. He ‘owes’ Mrs Scheer nothing.

          The SF unit had succeeded in killing everyone else in that house, but Khadr. He was lucky to survive – after being treated by another ‘medic’ in the unit and medevaced to a US military hospital. After that he was mistreated tortured and brutalized for 14 years by US authorities and by his own government. HHecne the suit and its settlement.

          Hopefully that part of his life is over and he can move on to become a good Canadian citizen – even if he never votes Tory.

          • Kevin Quinn
            Khadr can’t become a good Canadian citizen, He has learned the wrong messages from all this. Who do you know who has a million bucks that he didn’t have to work for who has respect for Canada’s supposed values of hard work and paying taxes. How does that apply to him? It doesn’t,

          • Since Khadr was a terrorist, they could have just left him and not provided any medical help. I’m sure his terrorist brethren wouldn’t have brought in a medic to help a wounded American. More likely would have beheaded him.

  2. There have been so many missteps in the Omar Khadr saga that it’s very hard to know what really happened in that compound in Afghanistan or the events since then. It is clear that there were grave mistakes in how he was handled from his arrest to his release from prison in Alberta. What is clearly in the best interests of all concerned is to put this behind us by finding a resolution that will allow Mr Khadr and all Canadians to move forward. I think the government has achieved that by settling for an amount that is probably lower than a court would have ordered and that closes this case for good.
    Let’s learn from this and move on.

  3. Mr. Khadr I am sorry for you and the other millions of young and not son young people that are daily perverted and subverted into doing what they think is right but someone else thinks is wrong.
    Had your lawsuit against the Canadian government it could have resulted in a larger or smaller financial verdict. But I can say with certainty the negative political fallout would have further tarnished the liberal brand. What is most sad is that while you brought suit against the government for treatment received at the hands of a foreign power Canada’s aboriginal people have brought suit against the same government because of mistreatment at the hands of the Canadian government. Mr. Trudeau, why is there no money for them?

  4. Speer’s widow has already won a $100 million for damages against Khadr in a Utah court. She will definitely go after Khadr’s settlement money. The US federal government will likely put pressure on Canada to hand over that money directly to Speer’s widow. Donald Trump will likely tweet menacingly about it. The interesting part will be how Trudeau reacts.

    • I hope the Speer family gets the money, not Khadr as the Speer family is the real victim in this saga. Khadr is nothing more than a terrorist and murderer where in other countries like China, Japan, Iran, he would be put to death for his crimes, and not awarded $10M taxpayer dollars.

      • A kid…..on a battlefield…..during a firefight…..up against professional armed soldiers……?

        • The US troops should not have saved Khadr’s life, but let him die on the battlefield.

          • Make you wonder why they didn’t just ‘double tap’ him – for humanitarian reasons – he was that bad off. They obviously thought he might have some valuable intel for them.

        • Those professional armed soldiers were to there to protect the Afghan civilians, and not murder them like Khadr and his Al-Qaeda comrades. Only the stupid could consider the professional armed soldiers the bad guys and an Al-Qaeda supporter the good guys.

          • Only the stupid would blame the kid for what happened.

          • Khadr was 15, old enough to know the meaning of murder. Only the truly stupid would reward a 15 year old kid $10M because he was mistreated for murdering someone.

          • a) he was legally a child.

            b) it was a firefight. Get a grip.

          • Sorry EmilyOne, but the UN Charter specific identifies Child soldiers are 14 years old and younger. Khadr was 15, and in fact only a month or so away from his 16th birthday. At 16, he can legally join the Canadian Armed Forces.

          • Be a Canadian Citizen. Be 17 years of age, with parental consent, or older, except: Regular Officer Training Plan – Junior applications must be 16 or older. Reserve Force – Applicants may be 16 years of age if they are also enrolled as a full-time high school student.

          • Then there a lot of ‘the stupid’ Tom, If we were that much ‘smarter’ we should have won already. Us ‘acting like bad guys’, even if only because we ‘have to’, has prevented our vict’ry parade.

          • Peng and Emilyone

            I was wondering about this issue of hi being a child soldier and how the west’s understanding of that, legally, influenced their treatment of him over the years. I followed a link mentioned and got to various pages, some of which speak on the matter in today’s terms, while an older one goes back to when the realization that the child soldier issue was becoming a problem. So, in 2001, when Omar was 14 or 15, the UN decided to specify that this was a war crime:
            ” . . . notes the inclusion as a war crime in the Rome Statute of the conscription or enlistment of children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities;” 2001
            So, when the incident happened in 2002, Omar was a soldier and probably had been conscripted while it was still legal to do so. Did he ever say, I wonder?

            Then I saw this article, suggesting that it might not have been until 2005 that child soldiers were being monitored.

            And then I wondered what happened to all the child soldiers back then, who lived, and would be around 30 years old today.

            Back to Omar: Perhaps back then, the military did not know how to handle such a situation, especially when there some doubt as to whether he was a soldier according to the laws of the time, or a child, and could it be they did not know the term child soldier?

  5. Why do the Canadian taxpayers continually have to pay for the human rights abuses which occur when Liberals are in power?

    • Whatever happened to all those prisoners Harp had tortured?

      • Really, Harper tortured prisoners? Please provide a list of names here for proof, or are these your imaginary prisoners that you lefties make up?

        • Major international news…UN followed it….we’re still not clear of it. You must have slept through that… you have so many other things.

          Not a leftie Peng-peng…..supporter of technocracy.

          • Where is the list of prisoner names that Harper tortured? Still waiting, list them here for us to see.

          • Thanks for confirming your left-wing delusional logic. Absolutely stunning that you can consider this incident as meaning Harper tortured prisoners.

          • Never a leftie…..and you, Ping pong, have gone over the edge.

      • You mean the Martin Liberals…the detainee handling procedures were set up by the Martin Liberals. They were the ones who took Canada to Kandahar totally unprepared. Harper inherited the mess and fixed it.

        By the way, current Liberal Defence Minister Sajjan was one of the Canadian military liaisons with the Afghan officials doing the detaining, and in a clear conflict of interest has shut down any further investigation into the allegedly egregious detainee handling policies of the Martin Liberals in which he himself may have been culpable.

        • No, I mean Harper…..the guy in contempt of Parliament

  6. The only points being scored are by the Liberal government – which, as usual , says little but is obviously being fair and doing the right thing, again.

    In counterpoint the opposition is in full-flame mode, trying to defend the malignancy of their former government in ‘screwing over’ a Canadian citizen for no more reason than personal opinion and without benefit of the Law it ignored or tried to change for the best part of a dozen years while a Canadian languished in a military prison on, quite likely, trumped-up charges.

    Oh and if Khadr’s lawyers have already cashed his cheque, they score points too. Well deserved points. we all should have such lawyers! Bravo to them!

    • As a wounded terrorist, Khadr should have just been left behind on the battlefield and there would be nothing to debate. I’m confident that’s what his terrorist compatriots would have done to a wounded American soldier. More likely they would have severed his head to make sure he didn’t survive.

  7. I lived in a moderate Muslim country for a number of years and was able to observe community / family connections and obligations. 1st and foremost the citizens of this country considered themselves Muslim before their citizenship or anything else. Lots of praying, men and women segregated, education consisted of Koran reading contests, etc. Omar Khadr has had this same exposure. His religion and his family are far more important and being a Canadian. The government, now having given him a good sized chunk of cash, had better keep their eye on it because it will now try to wiggle it’s way back to his family and ultimately ISIS.
    My expat friends / acquaintances can hardly believe the Canadian government is so blind. The most meaningful comment suggested that this was all done by a lawyer intent on making a name for himself while arriving at a big payday …. think about it ….

  8. A new low for Trudeau ..paying a terrorist, who was making bombs to kill Canadian soldiers. Every dime should go to the family ,that he KILLED their husband/father.
    I hope this issue trails idiot Trudeau until the next election, and will help in the defeat of this horrible government.

  9. – A child soldier is defined as younger than 15yo & a member of a recognized military. Omar was 15yo (almost 16yo) at the time & not a member of a recognized military.
    -Regardless, in Canada under Common Law, young offenders can be & sometimes are tried as adults when the situation is deemed serious, as in a murder charge.
    -He was effectively an “independent combatant” acting as a terrorist & not covered by the Geneva Convention, therefore not afforded it’s protections. He & his terrorist comrades had no status on the “battlefield” as they were not part of any “army”. Essentially, they were acting as criminal “thugs”.
    -The best evidence available, provided to military court, said that he killed unarmed Sgt. Speers, a medic, & wounded another US soldier, costing him the sight in one eye.
    -Because he was not with a recognized military, i.e. he was not a soldier, he is simply seen as a “criminal murderer”.
    -Sgt. Speers US medic colleagues saved Omar’s life after the fire fight. He then rec’d. the best of care at US military hospital.
    -If his detainment in Cuba infringed on his “rights”, that had nothing to do with Canada.
    -If Canadian officials somehow violated his “Charter Rights” in questioning him while in Cuba, how is this worth 10.5 million? Perhaps 10.5 thousand.
    -For some perspective, a CDN soldier’s family receives about 350 thousand if he/she is killed in action.
    -Omar built IEDs that possibly killed or maimed CDN soldiers.
    -Omar is pictured displaying the severed trophy hands of coalition soldiers.
    -Why are charges of being a traitor to Canada not being explored? Does the “Charter” cover convicted terrorists & murderers who may be traitors as well?
    -Why did the CDN government hasten the pay out to attempt to “cut out” the killed & injured soldiers legal claims?
    -The pay out will still likely be accessible as it was “fraudulently” moved into a trust, or other, to protect it from a pending legal action.
    -Given the 10.5 million award Omar rec’d., the honourable thing would be for him to: 1. Give it back to the CDN government to help care for wounded CDN military personnel & repay CDN taxpayers for Canada’s support of him. 2. Give it to the US families seeking compensation. Or, 3. Repay the US military for saving his life.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation. So I will remove one of the links. the other is on my earlier comment on this topic.

      You wrote “– A child soldier is defined as younger than 15yo & a member of a recognized military. Omar was 15yo (almost 16yo) at the time & not a member of a recognized military.”

      I wrote a post on this topic earlier in this comments section. I was wondering about something Peng had said, and now you are saying the same thing.

      My point was this happened 15 years ago, and I have not seen when the term “child soldier” was made a legal term. Furthermore, and what I have seen, is that a person younger than 16 could not join the military. And this may well be where the slight distortion of that comes from, that a child soldier is one 15 or younger. What it was back then, I don’t know. If Omar would have been 14 or 15 when he was taken prisoner, he was probably conscripted at age 14 or 15, but before any laws were made.

      The significance of this is that if Omar is being treated now as having been a child soldier when at the time he was not, legally, actually, or any way, then none of this business about paying him this money because he is a mistreated child makes sense.

  10. Congratulations to Prime Minister Trudeau for finally recognizing the inhuman way Omar has been treated. If only Mr. Harper had been so fair.

    • Can you be more specific?