An interesting choice of words

“It looks like Stephen Harper is going to be the last defender of Guantanamo Bay.”

That’s Omar Khadr’s lawyer, Bill Kuebler, commenting on the Conservative government’s latest refusal to ask that Khadr be returned to Canada.

It’s a not entirely facetious statement. The Obama administration is talking hopefully of closing the infamous facility (even if it’s not yet clear how). A federal judge in Washington ruled this week that five Algerians, held at Guantanamo for the past seven years, must be set free. Britain and Australia have long since succeeded in having their citizens released or repatriated. The Law Society of Upper Canada recently joined the likes of Amnesty International, the United Church, and Human Rights Watch in opposing Khadr’s American prosecution. And according to one poll, only 30% of Canadians approve of Khadr’s standing trial in Cuba.

Still here was what Lawrence Cannon said this week when pressed: “Mr. Khadr faces very serious charges. He is being held and it’s our government’s intention to follow and respect the process that’s in place and, of course, to respect American sovereignty on this issue.”

That’s in keeping with the rote statement delivered each time the government has been pressed in the House to account for their position on Khadr.

But the Bloc’s Serge Menard gave it another try today. And here was Deepak Obhrai’s response.

“Mr. Speaker, our position remains unchanged, because unlike many prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Omar Khadr has actually been charged with serious crimes and is in a judicial legal process to determine his guilt or innocence, and we support this process continuing.”

I don’t personally recall Obhrai or any of his counterparts making that explicit distinction before—stating clearly that many prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been held without charge. Perhaps he or someone has used this sort of language before. Either way, it’s probably an interesting choice of words.

A little history. Omar Khadr was captured in July 2002. That fall (when Jean Chretien was Prime Minister), Canadian officials requested that he not be sent to Guantanamo Bay. He was held for more than three years before being formally charged in Nov. 2005 (when Paul Martin was Prime Minister). Those charges were briefly dismissed in June 2007 (when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister).

So far as Obhrai’s comments today, you could, if you were so interested, extrapolate from it all sorts of follow-up questions. Is the Canadian government acknowledging that many prisoners have been held at Guantanamo Bay without charge? Does the Canadian government consider that in keeping with basic human rights and acceptable due process? If not, how does the Canadian government view the three years Omar Khadr was held without charge? How does the Canadian government view the prisoners who are still held without charge? And if the Canadian government objects at all to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, can it still support the prosecution of Omar Khadr?

An interesting choice of words

  1. I don’t want to be unfair here, largely because the prisoners’ legal status is very complicated, but it’s an extremely unfortunate choice of words for Cannon to claim this as a matter of American sovereignty.

    After all, the very reason that they are being held in Guantanamo (and not on the mainland) is because that’s the one place where issues of sovereignty are effectively in limbo, and with them issues like habeas corpus. This was a conscious decision in 2001/2002.

    If the Canadian government really thinks that the Americans are claiming sovereignty over Guantanamo, this would be news to the American government, which has explicitly argued the contrary in briefs to their supreme court.

    Moreover, I wasn’t aware that the Canadian government explicitly endorsed the American position vis a vis Guantanamo as it stands as a legal struggle with the Cuban government.

  2. Writes Cameron:

    I don’t want to be unfair here, largely because the prisoners’ legal status is very complicated

    What’s complicated here? They are being held illegally. They are neither treated as POW’s nor are they treated as criminals.

    The only thing that is complicated are the gyrations the Bush administration have gone through to constitute their little “special bus” tribunal system outside of the US courts.

Sign in to comment.