What’s the difference between Ishmael Beah and Omar Khadr?


That’s Chapter One in a new book I’m working on called “Questions Dan Gardner Asked Two Years Ago.”


What’s the difference between Ishmael Beah and Omar Khadr?

  1. The problem with the article, is that Khadr might not have thrown the grenade. There was another militant who was shot just after. And the first soldier through shot khadr in the back as he was hudled in a corner. I don’t have the timings and everything but that is why a trial would be nice. I’m just basing this on the account Dennis Edney gave to my uni in the fall.

  2. Wrong question.

    The right one?

    What was his crime?

    Is there evidence to link him to the crime?

    Is the evidence sufficient to warrant trial in a court of law?

    You must know where this will lead.

    Allegations of a crime do not a crime make.

    Failure to try an allegation of crime do not a criminal make.

    Ideologues who exude noxious gases do not a conviction make.

  3. I’m intrigued by your (proposed) book title. It wasn’t long ago, when — in a fit of pique at something he wrote here — I linked to HIS blog for the first time, hoping to find some fatal flaw in his musings. I read and enjoy it daily now.

    A better tilte would be: On the Silk Road to Samarkand… how child torture leads to enduring cultural icons.

    “Why did the ancient stonemasons carve the backs of statues’ heads when they could never be seen?”

  4. I got Ishmael Beah’s book for Christmas and finished reading not long after. That book has completely hardened my heart against each and every one of the mouth-frothers who can’t even imagine granting the kid the benefit of a doubt, let alone his basic human rights.

    • The benefit of the doubt? Maybe you can enlighten us – what exactly was Khadr doing in the middle of Afghanistan during the war?

      • because being in afghanistan means that he launched the grenade committing the alleged crime? and it surely it also means that he unlike Beah is beyond redemption, right sf?

      • Maybe there is two separate issues. High treason and then the specific crimes. I think the mix up is whether Canada should let the U.S. deal with it or whether we should, and what the ‘status’ of enemy combatant is. I guess we could repatriate him and try him for high treason. Maybe the life sentence could take into account the ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ American term, I don’t know if we have the same, and the sentence limited. (put restrictions on movement.) I don’t know where this child soldier stuff comes in though.

      • I have reason to believe you’re asking not because you’re truly interested in the answer, sf, but because you already think you know everything you need to know. That said, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and have a quick try.
        Not being Omar Khadr myself, I can’t presume to know his mind or his motivations, but I know he was 15 when he was taken into custody in Afghanistan, and I understand from what I’ve been told that his father, who brought him there in the first place, was a real piece of work.
        I take this information, plus what I know about myself from when I was 15 years old and younger, and to your question, “What exactly was Khadr doing in the middle of Afghanistan during the war,” my answer would be, “Uhhh, what he was told?”

        • My point was that there was no other reason for him to be in that field of battle other than to be fighting the Americans. So there is little doubt that he is a prisoner of war.

          The link provided by edeast is a good one. I don’t think trying him for treason makes much sense.

          There if no ‘benefit of the doubt’ in this case, because even if he did not commit the act of killing an American soldier, he was still an enemy combatant in a foreign battlefield. Neither international nor Canadian law applies in this case. He should face the consequences of his actions.

          There is little reason to return him to Canada. Like any other individual who travels to foreign lands and engages in violent activity, he should face the consequences.

          • “Neither international nor Canadian law applies in this case.” You are flatly incorrect…. only Bush and his clan ‘believed’ this.

          • Instead of issuing a flat denial without backing up your argument in any way, maybe you could bolser your argument by actually citing a real unimaginary law that indicates he should be returned to Canada.

            BTW, Bush is longer US president, so what he does or does not believe is irrelevant. I hope your Bush Derangement Syndrome alleviates itself over time.

          • Oh I see. Your point was that, though he hasn’t been tried or convicted of anything, he has no reason for being in Afghanistan other than to fight against an invading country that has reserved the right to unilaterally define the nature of every person they arrest while they’re there, and because they have defined him as an enemy combatant, that is what he is. I’m never totally sure about these things, sf, but you seem like you would be very knowledgeable about them – is that begging the question?
            Also, you’ve stated that you feel he should face the consequences of his actions. For clarity’s sake: assuming it can be conclusively proved that Khadr was involved in the conflict, you don’t think the fact that he was a minor at the time should be factored into the equation in any way (and you’re aware that you’re swimming against the tide of international law when you make such an assertion)? And, you draw no distinction between ‘traveling to’ and ‘being taken to’ foreign lands?

          • sorry you were not claiming that there was no law that applies to him in general…you brought up is return to Canada in the next paragraph… I was responding to your comment as written

            on the first point: Article 4 of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, signed and ratified by Canada in 2000 as posted by Aaron provides a clear definition that obviously fits the Kadhr case.

            on the second point of returning home, the same protocol – as pointed out by an other commentator “jenn” states: “States Parties shall cooperate in the implementation of the present Protocol, including in the prevention of any activity contrary to the Protocol and in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons who are victims of acts contrary to this Protocol.”

            now, yup, you can make an arguement that it does not say explicitly that you return them to their home country bu i think it is pretty clear you don’t ask other states to rehabilitate your own citizens, except in a bunch of extreme circumstances that do not apply to Canada.

            Does anyone else see a pattern.

            1) S/CPC elected to government on a plank of return to accountability and rule of law

            2) laws or rules exist or are created (some prior to current government some by them)

            3) SH and CPC disregard or argue illegitimacy of laws as they see fit (e.g., fixed election law, election spending laws, parliamentary conventions, ratified international conventions)

            (and yes Liberals broke laws; some were punished some were not…. irrelevant).

        • Maybe if he were a travelling Canadian caught up in something through no fault of his own, then that would be a reason for Canada to attempt to repatriate him (in the same way Canadians were repatriated from Lebanon).

          Otherwise, the proper route is to allow due process to follow its course. It is unfortunate for Khadr that Obama decided to stop the proceedings.

          • It is unfortunate for Khadr that Obama decided to stop the proceedings.

            Why do you think Obama did this? And why do think this unfortunate? Please back up your answer with references to credible sources.

            Thenk yew.

          • “Otherwise, the proper route is to allow due process to follow its course. It is unfortunate for Khadr that Obama decided to stop the proceedings.”

            Your reference to allowing “due process” to follow its course is inaccurate and misleading. The term “due process” literally means the right to a fair and unbiased trail in a legitimate court of law. The “process” that you refer to –the Military Tribunals at Guantanamo Bay –have long been condemned for their LACK of “due process”. In fact, the United States supreme court ruled in 2004 that the Military Tribunals were illegal because they DENIED due process to the detainees (such as the ability to contest their imprisonment and the ability to see the charges and evidence against them). After this ruling, the trials were halted while the process was supposed to be fixed. Instead, George Bush overrided the US Supreme court and TOOK AWAY what little rights the prisoners had, making the process WORSE and more illegal than it had been before. The Tribunals then resumed, and this is the “court process” that was attempting to try Omar Khadr.

            Khadr’s lawyers have long stressed that he is not wanting to escape trial –he simply wants to be tried fairly. That is, to be tried with due process. Sure, if he had been facing a fair and unbiased, lawful trial, it would have been unfortunate for him that the proceedings were stopped. But your suggestion that that is what he was facing unfortunately betrays your lack of knowledge of the situation.

            Omar Khadr has been held illegally for far too long, and it is in fact Canada’s legal duty to stand up for the human rights of its citizens. Canada should repatriate him because that is the only way to do this. You say “Maybe if he were caught up in something through no fault of his own…” –well, that’s no maybe. He was a kid, under the orders of his father. Children do not usually have the ability or opportunity to choose where their parents place them, or what their parents have them do.

            You should do some more comprehensive reading about this, i think the issue is more complex than you realize.

  5. I think the difference that makes it different for most people is that Khadr’s own family took him to Afghanistan, whereas Beah’s family was killed and he was pressed into service afterward.

  6. Unfortunately for Khadr, it looks like he is being punished for the sins of his father/family.

    Beah’s story is what I think of when I think of child soldiers, through no fault of their own, they end up in a paramilitary, are heavily drugged and then sent out to kill. Khadr had an entirely different up bringing, one where he was taught to hate Canada/West and now he wants our protection after thoroughly rejecting our values/way of life. The expression ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’ comes to mind when I think of Khadr.

    • so please explain how a kid under the age of 15 was supposed to escape family and the armed forces whose ‘care’ he was relocated to.

      please address, first, making the mental break that that everyone around you was wrong factually and ethically (specifically addressing the cognitive development and critical thinking skills of children; and, second the logistics of doing so.

      • From wikisource through wikipedia, there was a chance, when a woman and child left the building. If Kahdr considered himself a child or wanted to escape he could have run out with them. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/OC-1_CITF_witness_report

        • And I realize whether he considers himself a child doesn’t matter under that UN rights of the child law, that was part of the light reading Wherry mentioned. But when we repatriate Khadr, how are we going to get justice, he’s received a lot of vengeance but not justice. Do we charge the mother with giving consent to have her minor join a terrorist organization, or can we charge him as a child soldier, and the sentence be the rehabilitation. What is Canada going to do with him when he comes here?
          It seems like Article 3 should apply, but because Al qaeda is a non state actor it falls under Article 4. Article 4 looks like it might have been drafted for those instances of Ishmael Beah. Article 11 we can’t get out of this agreement for a year and it wouldn’t apply to events in the past. Euchred under international law.

        • edeast,

          this is after a prolonged period of time of being integrated in the armed force… to the degree that there is a perceived need for rehabilitation and in line with the Beah account, to the degree that there is brainwashing or other forms of control I am not sure it is realistic to expect the kid to bolt at first opportunity, not to mention other considerations like:

          1) am i better off fighting with people that are taking care of me or turning my slef over to what has been indoctrinated as the enemy?

          2) if not to the ‘enemy’ where am i going?

          3) will the people here shoot me if i try to leave?

          4) is there crossfire and is safe to run?

          etc etc

          and you honestly beleive that not realizing that an opportunity to get away or taking advantage of it straight away in middle of a war eradicates his standing as a child?

          • In a word yes. But that may because I am close to his age. As I get older I understand the indoctrination aspect. Allegedly: He volunteered, his family gave permission, it was a fluke that the group was stumbled upon, stayed to fight, but he still would have been building IEDs, and planting mines. Which kill our soldiers, our family members ( extended in my case). Notice the possessive pronouns, do we try him according to this country’s laws, or to some universal set. I understand the benefit of a global legal system, in a world with nukes. But a country or any player according to game theory shouldn’t be altruistic, it should be tit for tat.( this was based on a talk of Martin Nowak, but I see tit for tat looks a lot like mutual assured destruction in a nuclear context) Which is why I’m asking about justice, Canada was wronged by the Khadrs, there is general feeling of betrayal. I don’t mind giving mercy to Khadr (that may seem ironic given his shite treatment), but mercy after we label what was wrong. So if he is a child soldier, what responsibilities does he have for his actions of planting mines, or fighting our allies? And on who else does the balance, parents, al Queda? or does repatriation mean, welcome home you didn’t know better, and it’s no one’s fault, but feel free to sue the Government of Canada for not extraditing you sooner, and protecting your interests. I would feel sick if this is what happened. It would be nice to have a government so fair, but that is why I brought up the treason charge, the family broke their oath of citizenship, and I think the government tacitly washed their hands of him without washing their hands.

          • edeast….are you ‘close to his present age’ or his age at the time of his arrest.

            I understand your sentiment. my extended family has lost member to previous wars too. and anyone who has been wronged in anyways likely feels much the same towards the other party. but I am not sure that that emotive response is always the best way to deal with the issues at hand in any case.

            you raise some very good points and questions. perhaps I can push you on some of them?

            1) i don;t think anyone here is saying, I know I am not, that his repatriation should be consequence free. I think this is what makes the issue of dealing with child soldiers esp difficult. some have done horrific things, but is also clear that they have also been subject to horrific things. he is a Canadian citizen and i think our legal system has the capacity to try Khadr, in a just manner. at this point, according to the rule of law all claims are alleged. deviating from that principle has horrendous consequences, whether it turns out that the allegations are accurate or not. due process and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, rehabilitation and accountability and punishment for wrongs are not mutually exclusive or incompatible. the question is always how… it seems to be having had him sit in a cell in Gitmo seven years, and possibly having been subjected to torture seems to me to overemphasizes punishment over the other two and, if anything works against both due process and rehabilitation. what sensible outcome is achieved?

            2) you suggest that he volunteered while at the same time making really clear a point that seems to be the only matter of consensus on the matter at hand, his family was terrible. my teenage years are getting farther and farther away, and my preteen years even more so. if i think back to all the things i did ‘voluntarily’ now when i was 12 and 13 i can identify lots of things that i went along with merrily that i would not do today. luckily i had a great family and so i didn’t have much influence around me that would get me in a lot of trouble. Khadr was clearly not that lucky. you even place the charge of treason with the family. should a kid who was <15 be blamed for the mistakes of his family, no matter how grievous? there are still times when as an adult i have done things i wished i didn;t, but it is clear by this age that i have accumulated a lot more experience and perspective such that i can more reasonably be expected to make judgments that guide those behavior and as such I bear responsibility for them. i know that that is not often the case with 12-13 yr olds. I don’t think ‘volunteering’ is as black and white as you make it out to be.

            3) economics and game theory can teach us a lot. but… it has some serious flaws and holes. one of them is it overemphasizes short-term, self-interest over more comprehensive thinking. again, while emotional responses are normal and strong, it is not clear that tit-for-tat gets us far. as Ghandi remarked: "An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind".

          • My comment on the age issue is awaiting moderation.
            1) I’m not a fan of Gitmo, I wish the government sorted this out sooner. That’s why I’ve been kicking around ideas for charges, when he gets here what are we going to charge him with? There is a wrong that needs to be identified, and the sentence ameliorated in light of torture. But the mercy needs to come after the justice, we can’t go around forgiving people for their worldviews, parent induced or otherwise.
            Both the liberals and conservatives have ignored this, probably for good reason, considering America, in a realpolitik frame of reference.

            “if i think back to all the things i did ‘voluntarily’ now when i was 12 and 13 i can identify lots of things that i went along with merrily that i would not do today.”

            This is what I’m talking about, what of the stuff you do today that you won’t do in the future. I will concede that trying him as an adult in a country where he hasn’t reached the age of majority might not make sense.
            But I don’t think there is a magic age, where responsibility comes. So today your primary information sources are no longer your parents, but some other sources which could be as equally flawed. Does that excuse you from laws of a system you are a part of even though you don’t know the intricacies of it. I hope macleans approves my other comment, if not i will retype it.

          • The reason I brought up similarity in age, may have to do with near / far bias. overcomingbias.com/2009/01/disagreement-is-nearfar-bias.html
            The Dan Gardner article mentions attitude towards teen sex. Here is a graph,
            showing disapproval increasing with distance from the age under question.
            So at the time, it was cut and dried. Sides were chosen.

            Consider as kids, a bully and prey, parent of prey explains that it is because of socioeconomic background or other cause, that the bully commits crime. To the peer it seems as if a crime has been deliberately been committed by an equal actor. or Consider your peer committing a crime at your age seemingly unprovoked, and later you find out the backstory. How high into abstraction does excuses run, where does justice fit in? The example of Beah, I’m not familiar with it, but apparently child soldiers often have to kill each other and siblings when captured to desensitize them. To the peers in that group of kids, the “moral” ones refuse and are killed, the criminal ones survive. Justice should require us to imprison the survivors for murder. Say we want a utilitarian outcome and rehabilitation. It seems unfair to the ones who refused. It is my understanding that the law is there to remove biases, and that is why I acknowledge the laws we are under, changeable through democracy.

          • #3) The lecture is on the evolution of altruism. http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?id=3093
            It’s not a hard tit for tat. The strategy is like/stay, else/change. Just search for Martin Nowak.
            I understand it is a simple model compared to the complex system of reality, but altruism is a simple model as well.

            And I brought up the personal aspect of this to show their is no objective or universal legal system. Say we trace back everyone’s motivations and influences, how do we determine who was wrong?

            My thoughts now stand as there is a principle of justice as fairness that is violated among peers, but maybe there is a utilitarian outlook within society from those more advanced to those below.
            and hence the drive to get to the top so to not be deemed useless. Cephalization is a bitch.

            oh ya, and I’m close to his present age. and i can see the benefit of having khadr integrate into society rather than getting kicked out and trying to destroy it.

    • Have you read Beah’s story? I have, in it he said he loved the game of capturing his captors and killing them. Why is Khadr so different? He was brain washed by his family to fight in Afgahinstan , Beah was
      brainwashed by drugs? Both of them were teenagers. There are way too many Canadians teenagers that reject our values/ our way of life and we do not put them in a detention without a trial…
      Khadr was not even tried in a court of law it was a military tribunal, and then Canada was the only Western country not to ask for his repatriation. I would say its quiet disgusting…

  7. Personally, I don't see a difference at all. They were both young boys brainwashed to kill mercilessly and to act without thinking.

    Why would one boy be given the chance at rehabilitation and a new life, while the other is sentenced for life?