Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Omar Khadr Turns 21 in Gitmo

On Wednesday, the only Canadian citizen being held indefinitely in Gitmo and who was originally seized as a child soldier in Afghanistan, Omar Khadr, turned 21. Despite new protestations from Liberal leader Stephane Dion, the federal Conservatives continue to take a wait and see approach (which is nothing short of political pandering to the Bush administration's whims) when it comes to attempting to secure Khadr's release any time soon.

Unfortunately, Khadr was dealt yet another blow when the US congress failed to restore habeus corpus rights:

A Republican filibuster in the Senate yesterday [Wednesday] shot down a bipartisan effort to restore the right of terrorism suspects to contest in federal courts their detention and treatment, underscoring the Democratic-led Congress's difficulty with terrorism issues.

The 56 to 43 vote fell short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote on the amendment to the Senate's annual defense policy bill. But the measure did garner the support of six Republicans, a small victory for its supporters. A similar proposal drew 48 "yea" votes last September.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that such detainees did have the right to appeal their detention in federal court, but the court invited Congress to weigh in on the issue. At the urging of the Bush administration, the Republican-controlled Congress last year voted to sharply limit detainee access to the courts. Since then, the high court has agreed to hear in its upcoming term another legal challenge concerning the habeas corpus rights of detainees at Guantanamo.

The authors of last year's bill said that advocates of such rights would open the federal courts to endless lawsuits from the nation's worst enemies. "To start that process would be an absolute disaster for this country," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force Reserve lawyer who was instrumental in crafting the provision in question in last year's bill.

What Graham and his Republican colleagues don't appear to understand is that the denial of basic legal rights to detainees has already created a "disaster" for their country via the loss of America's integrity and credibility. And Omar Khadr certainly is not one of America's "worst enemies".

And, as senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said after Wednesday's GOP filibuster:

The Senate's action "calls into question the United States' historic role of defender of human rights in the world," Leahy said. "It accomplishes what opponents could never accomplish on the battlefield, whittling away our own liberties."

So, as Omar Khadr sits and waits, this country's inaction is absolutely shameful:

"Canada is alone among Western nations in not having secured the release from Guantanamo of one of its nationals. Prime Minister Harper must finally ensure Mr. Khadr receives the same consular support that any other Canadian -- detainee or not -- would receive," Dion said in a statement released after he met with Khadr's lawyers.

Khadr's U.S. defence counsel, Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, said the Canadian government has never asked for his client's release.

But he said Dion's comments indicate there is a growing movement to ensure Khadr's legal rights are protected.

"I'm hopeful, based on what we've seen recently from the Canadian Bar Association, which came out and called upon the prime minister to command Omar's repatriation last month, and the very courageous decision by Mr. Stephane Dion and his colleagues today, to call on the government to see that Omar is released from Guantanamo," he told CTV Newsnet.

"I think we're starting to turn a corner in Canada, similar to what happened in Australia and the U.K., when those countries finally got fed up by the treatment of their citizens by this process."

Why has it taken our government this long?

Meanwhile, as I noted here in August, this is what Omar Khadr has been reduced to:

Mr. Edney said that when he saw Mr. Khadr recently, his client was so mentally debilitated that he wanted nothing more than crayons and some paper to colour on. Contrary to federal government assurances that Mr. Khadr is doing just fine, Mr. Edney said, his client is actually "ill and going blind. He needs all sorts of help."

That is Bush/GOP-style "justice" - enabled by my country's government.

Everyone involved in perpetuating Omar Khadr's suffering is culpable.

Saying "happy birthday" just sounds trite. I can only hope that Omar experienced at least some moments of joy on his day - if that's even possible for him anymore.


U.S. prison stunting Khadr’s development, lawyer charges

Video: Avi Lewis' interview of Micahel Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights regarding Khadr's fate.

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