As observant readers will note from the timestamp on this entry, I did not, in fact have time to hit the cafeteria, so I warn you in advance that this liveblog may get progressively more snippy as my blood sugar level drops.
I couldn’t miss this meeting, though, not after making such a big deal of it yesterday, and not given the fact that it’s happening at all.
I mean, who knew that the Subcommittee on International Human Rights was prepared to tackle the Khadr conundrum? And who would have thought that his army issue defense counsel would come all the way to Ottawa to talk about it? And – my goodness, there are a lot of reporters here. They’re circling around the witness – Kuebler – for a few last shots before the chair boots the lot of then out of the room.
Kuebler, I should note, is in full miitary dress, a dazzlingly white hat perched on the table in front of him. He looks a bit taken aback by the attention he’s getting, but not particularly fussed.
The chair – Scott Reid, last seen by ITQ liveblog readers as best supporting actor at the Procedure and House Affairs committee – welcomes the witnesses and somewhat hilariously suggests that anyone who wants to know more about Kuebler ought to consult Wikipedia, which, frankly, makes more sense than *him* reading it out loud, especially with only an hour instead of the usual two.
Okay, Kuebler begins his statement, but before I forget, I want to point out that Jason Kenney – who usually chairs this committee – is here, but sitting on the government side, which would suggest the PMO is very keen on making sure that this meeting doesn’t turn into a gongshow.
Okay, back to Kuebler, who is telling the committee how utterly false the portrayal of Omar Khadr has been, up until very recently.
Children are never soldiers, Kuebler notes. That doesn’t mean they can’t be held responsible for their actions in an appropriate way – that is, in facilities designed for children, that focus on rehabilitation. Congress, he says, never intended to put children on trial for war crimes. (I suspect there are those who might disagree with that take.)
Kuebler concludes by stressing he isn’t asking for Khadr to be treated any differently than the child soldiers of other countries. Kenney looks unconvinced.
Why, it’s Dominic Leblanc, of all people, up for the Liberals. Either I’m stalking him or he’s stalking me — he seems to turn up at all the same committees. Such a glamourous social life here on the Hill. Anyway, he wonders whether any other children are being detained at Guantanamo, and Kuebler notes that there were, but they were kept in a separate facility that provided access to education and rehabilitative services.
I have to say that the thought of children being held at Gitmo – even in a separate camp – sends chills down my spine. If nothing else, Keubler is an impassioned advocate for his distinctly uncuddly client.
Vivianne Barbot takes the floor for the Bloc Québécois, which means the obligatory earpiece-figuring-out by the witness at the first hint of French. She says that, when she was a young girl living in Haiti, her father was persecuted by the government and she suffered as a result. She believes Omar Khadr is a victim and that his rights should be respected.
She wants to know what Canadians should do when other countries refuse to recognize the Geneva Conventions and what will happen to Khadr if he isn’t brought back to Canada. Kuebler notes that even though he doesn’t believe Khadr actually threw the grenade that killed a US officer, Khadr will almost certainly be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. On the plus side, there are protocols that specifically apply to child soldiers, even when Geneva may not.
Wayne Marston muses that Omar Khadr appears to be suffering for the sins of his father. He also points out former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham was quoted in the media last week expressing regret for not doing more to bring him back.
According to Kuebler, this is the first meaningful contact he’s had with any representative of the Canadian government with respect to his client’s wellbeing. He also reminds the committee that Canadians – citizens and government – were sold a “bill of goods” on Khadr and only now is the real story beginning to emerge.
I have to say that I’m getting more and more curious to see what strategy Kenney will use in questioning the witness.
And here he is: Jason Kenney. He points to what he sees as a contradiction between Kuebler’s written submission and presentation – something to do with rehabilitation versus due process in Canada. But it just isn’t, really. The two things Kuebler is recommending aren’t mutually exclusive, but that doesn’t stop Kenney from quizzing him on what charges Khadr could face in Canada. Kuebler reminds him he is Khadr’s lawyer, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to make suggestions on other possible crimes of which his client could be convicted.
Jason Kenney has been adjusting his tie for the last four minutes. I wonder if he’s listening to what Kuebler has to say or if he’s just running through lines in his head.
Kenney doesn’t think much of the comparison of Khadr to the child soldiers of Sierra Leone, but Kuebler handles it well; he points out that age isn’t the only issue, nor is coercion – whether at gun point, or via family pressure.
If Khadr is a “victim”, Kenney wonders, who should be prosecuted for that crime? Wait, huh? I mean, I sort of get what he’s saying, but even if his father was deemed responsible, as Kuebler points out, he’s dead.
The trouble with extra-shortened five minute question slots is that almost no MPs are capable of asking anything with less than a minute of preamble and that tends to eat up a lot of time. Serge Ménard, the wily Bloc Québécois MP who interrogated Mulroney, is the exception. He actually gets into a back and forth, which is far more likely to produce new information.
A good point from Kuebler: Canada doesn’t have to take on the existence of Guantanamo Bay, or the legitimacy of the War on Terror, in order to request justice for Omar Khadr. It kind of depresses me how he keeps reminding the committee that Khadr simply won’t be acquitted by military tribunal. It’s just not going to happen. It must be rough on him, too – Keubler, that is – to know the game is rigged against his client from the start. Then again, there’s something awfully appealing about seemingly lost causes, and it does feel pretty damn good when you suddenly win.
Interesting question from Barbot: Would Khadr be better off if he were stateless? Yes, actually, says Keubler, since the Canadian government has done absolutely nothing to help him, unlike Britain, Australia and other civilized nations.
Ten more minutes – we’re going over by one question, apparently, so both the Conservatives and the NDP get one more question.
David Sweet takes the last government slot and asks how Kuebler became the advocate for Khadr, and if he has “unfettered access” to his client. No one has unfettered access to a client at Guantanamo Bay, Kuebler says. Over the course of his work on Khadr’s behalf, he says he’s spent more than thirty hours with his client, who, Keubler reveals, has had a grant total of two phone calls with his family in the last five and a half years.
You know, I think Sweet is actually listening to what Kuebler is saying. He may not agree that Khadr is a victim, but he seems genuinely unsettled by what he’s hearing today.
Wayne Marston, to no one’s surprise, believes that Omar Khadr has to be repatriated to Canada and wonders how Canada can be a leader. Kuebler reminds him that, in other cases, Canada has indeed been a leader in dealing with child soldiers – the treatment of Khadr, he notes, is “anomalous.”
That’s the only question from the NDP, so Scott Reid takes the last three and a half minutes or so to ask for more details on how the repartiation process might work.
Kuebler gets a minute or so to summarize his case. He re-emphasizes the fact there is no real evidence Khadr was responsible for killing that US soldier and that the Omar Khadr portrayed by the US government bears no resemblance to the Omar Khadr who has spent the last six years at Guantanamo Bay under the most “rigourous” conditions imaginable. Despite all that, he says, the question for this committee is not whether he is guilty or innocent of the crime, but what is the right thing for Canada to do.
Which just about says it all. On that note, I think I’ll sign off.