What we're talking about when we talk about Omar Khadr

CBC had a panel of MPs discussing Omar Khadr this afternoon. For the Conservatives, it was Pierre Lemieux, who quite successfully repeated his lines about “serious crimes” and the “process.” Martha Hall Findlay, from the Liberals, proceeded to smack him about until Lemieux noticed that Hall Findlay didn’t have an answer to the question of what to do with Khadr were he returned. The end result was probably a messy draw, though admittedly I zoned out in the cross-talk.

Anyway. Debate is fun, but information is generally important. Here is the U.S. Defence Department’s database for the military commission that was, until yesterday, hearing Khadr’s case. Here is the hub of Toronto Star’s coverage, built around the work of Michelle Shephard (whose book on Khadr is required reading in this regard). As well, Wikipedia’s Khadr page seems fairly thorough. (Wikipedia’s pages on Bagram and Guantanamo might also be helpful.)

Political language is sometimes destructive numbing, but perhaps no more so than when the story is as gruesome and complicated as this one. “Process,” for instance. It’s variously a term of biology, law, mathematics and science. It’s aseptic. It implies a sort of natural unimpeachability.

Take that word and keeping it in mind, read through the affidavit filed by Omar Khadr—the allegations contained therein unproven by due process as they are. A few excerpts.

During one interrogation at Guantanamo in the spring of 2003, an interrogator spit in my face when he didn’t like the answers I provided. He pulled my hair, and told me that I would be sent to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, or Syria – comments that I understood to be a threat of torture. The interrogator told me that the Egyptians would send in “Askri raqm tisa” – Soldier Number 9 – which was explained to me was a man who would be sent to rape me.

The interrogator told me, “Your life is in my hands”. My hands and ankles were shackled, and the interrogator then removed my chair, forcing me to sit on the floor. The interrogator told me to stand up. Because of the way I was shackled, I was not able to use my hands to do so, thus making the act difficult to do. As ordered by the interrogator, I stood up, at which time the interrogator told me to sit down again. When I did so, the interrogator ordered me to stand again. I could not do so, at which point the interrogator called two military police officers into the room, who grabbed me by the neck and arms, lifted me, up, and then dropped me to the floor. The military police officers lifted and dropped me in this manner approximately five times, each time at the instruction of the interrogator. The interrogator told me they would throw my case in a safe and that I would never get out of Guantanamo. This interrogation session lasted for approximately two to three hours…

Around March of 2003, I was taken out of my cell at Camp Delta at approximately 12:00 – 1:00 a.m., and taken to an interrogation room. An interrogator told me that my brother was not at Guantanamo, and that I should “get ready for a miserable life”. I stated that I would answer the interrogator’s questions if they brought my brother to see me. The interrogator became extremely angry, then called in military police and told them to cuff me to the floor. First they cuffed me with my arms in front of my legs. After approximately half an hour they cuffed me with my arms behind my legs. After another half hour they forced me onto my knees, and cuffed my hands behind my legs. Later still, they forced me on my stomach, bent my knees, and cuffed my hands and feet together. At some point, I urinated on the floor and on myself. Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.

Again, none of the above has been proven in a court of any kind. And perhaps none of it is true. But the mere possibility that some of it might be would seem to render words like “process” rather trite.