Thursday, May 15, 2008

Partisans With Short Memories

Omar Khadr affair has serious implications for Liberal party

There's little question that the ongoing Omar Khadr affair poses a significant dilemma for Canada, one that, by necessity will eventually have to be addressed by the sitting Conservative government.

Yet as the issue continues to gather steam as a partisan issue, the Omar Khadr case has also taken on some very serious implications for the Liberal party -- implications that Romeo Dallaire and Stephane Dion don't really seem to comprehend.

"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 lectured in September 2007.

Dallaire first publicly announced his intention to agitate on Khadr's behalf on May 1 of this year.

"I'm going to be a pain. Every time I stand up in the Senate, the leader of the government knows I'm coming at her and every time she gives the same answer, she is losing more and more feathers," Dallaire said.

"There is no depth of logic in [the government's position]," Dallaire added. "There is a real smell of short-term political fiddling. There's no doubt that's influencing the decisions. It's setting up Canada to lose enormous credibility when it's being tested on one of its own people."

Of course, the problem for Dallaire -- and for the entire Liberal party -- is this: where was Romeo Dallaire before May 1, 2008?

Where was Stephane Dion and the Liberal party in July of 2002 when he was first arrested by US troops in Afghanistan?

The answer: in power.

Where was Stephane Dion and the the Liberal party on September 19, 2004 when Omar Khadr turned 18 years old?

The answer: in power. Romeo Dallaire would be appointed to the Senate the very next year.

And what did the Liberal party do to help Omar Khadr? Not a damn thing up until their ouster from office in January 2006.

This party that now wants to agitate on Khadr's behalf, and take up the mantle of human rights and clemency for child soldiers, didn't do a damn thing on Khadr's behalf when they were in power and had the ability to do so.

It's a reality regarding this affair that only serves to undermine them politically. While both men may well be legitimately concerned for Khadr's well-being -- and Dallaire's previous tragic experience with child soldiers arms him with particular credibility to this end -- their previous inaction only serves to discredit them.

As each man seeks to lecture the government from the opposition benches of their respective House, their sudden show of concern is starkly contrasted by their previous silence while sitting on the other side of the aisle.

There is a serious issue underlying the Khadr case that must be resolved.

But in order to contribute constructively, Dion and Dallaire need to cool their partisan fires, think back to all the things they didn't do when they had the opportunity, and accept their share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs vis a vis Omar Khadr.

Then we'll be one step closer to recognizing the Khadr affair for what it is: a non-partisan political issue that demands resolution.


  1. Your right, the Liberals and the Conservatives (when they were in opposition) and now that they are in government chose to let a child soldier with Canadian citizenship rot in prison. Most people (even some conservatives in the US) now recognize that GITMO and the way that the Bush government has handled the 'war on terror' has been a strategic failure.

    On the left we (meaning the NDP) were raising the Khadr case as soon as it became public. Canada has signed international treaties recognizing that anyone under 18 cannot be deemed a regular combatant. Khadr was 15 at the time he was alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed a US soldier. It has come out (thanks to Khadr's US military lawyer) that 1. Khadr may not have been capable of throwing the grenade because he was gravely injured in the firefight and there was another Taliban fighter alive at the time 2. that at the time of his capture he was shot after he was incapacitated, and 3. that once in custody he was tortured.

    These are the concerns and issues that the NDP has consistently raised. The NDP has done this because there are important legal and human rights principles that should be fought for even during times when it is not political expedient to do so.

  2. I've read a lot of the stories regarding Khadr that suggested he didn't throw the grenade, and I'm afraid they simply don't hold water, in my view.

    For example, was he shot before or after his capture?

    Canada needs to be extremely important in how they handle Khadr. Various members of his family have clearly been brainwashed with their father's militant Muslim ideology, and there is little reason to expect that Omar is any different.

    We'd better be 100% certain that Khadr can be reformed before we allow him to walk the streets.

    I have nothing but sympathy for child soldiers, but I'm also not prepared to release terrorists to stalk our streets and do what terrorists do. It's simply too big a risk, and with too many lives.

  3. There are reports that he was shot after capture and there is a possibility given that another Taliban fighter was alive when the encampment was captured by US forces that he may not have thrown the grenade.

    That being said, the NDP is not suggesting that Khadr be returned to Canada and immediately released. The UK and the Aussies (and other western countries I think) successfully advocated to have their nationals returned so that they could be tried in a their own courts. That is something that I would think acceptable to all.

    The US cannot keep these people indefinitely, at some point a new govt will decide they cannot maintain GITMO (either for political, ethical or monetary reasons). I would prefer that Khadr come back to this country (since I don't believe we could legally stop him given that he is a citizen, don't forget his brother came home) in a manner that would:
    1. allow the state to assess him and provide him with whatever rehab he might need (this includes the kind of rehab child soldiers receive to re-integrate them into society)
    2. return to this country feeling like we didn't completely abandon him (why fuel the narrative/brainwashing of some of his family)

    There is no difference between child soldiers in Africa and Khadr, other than that he was fighting with a force that opposed the US. Unicef and other agencies have protocols for dealing with rehabbing child soldiers and it is time that Khadr have access to those services.

  4. Actually, there are some differences between Khadr and African child soldiers, and they actually are quite significant.

    Khadr was raised his entire life to believe in the militant Muslim ideology -- which I'll note is a political ideology built around around religion, not a purely religious ideology. Whereas the vast and overwhelming majority of child soldiers in Africa are children who are kidnapped from their parents and drugged and brainwashed later on.

    Other than that, I more or less agree with you. It's important to not underestimate the potential risk that Khadr poses -- particularly considering his current age. We have to do the work of actually treating him before releasing him, and be sure he isn't a threat.

    I honestly hope for the best for Omar Khadr. What he's already endured is a travesty. I'd hate to see his entire life lost to it, if it can be helped.


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