Child soldier, terrorist, or a little of both?
The controversy surrounding Omar Khadr came to a head during a hearing of the foreign affairs committee on international human rights, as Lt Gen (ret) Romeo Dallaire and Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney came to odds of Khadr's treatment.
Today, Dallaire compared Canada unfavourably to Al Qaeda for not treating Khadr as a child soldier.
"The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties in order to say you are doing it to protect yourself … you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all," said Dallaire. "We are slipping down the slope of going down that same route."
For his part, Kenney took exception.
"Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down Syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?" Kenney asked.
Dallaire was typically resolute in his answer.
"If you want a black and white [response] … I am only too prepared to give it to you: absolutely," Dallaire replied. "You are either with the law or you are against the law. You're either a child soldier or you're not. You're either guilty or you're not."
The dramatic nature of Dallaire's response aside -- that is certainly one thing that Dallaire excels at -- the issue really is not that simple, regardless of what Khadr's advocates may claim.
The Khadr affair has taken on some degree of partisanship, as the Liberal party's Dominic LeBlanc, NDP's Joe Comartin and Bloc Quebecois' Vivian Barbot have been quite vocal on his behalf.
For his own part, general Dallaire has proven to have little use for partisanship. As an individual with extensive experience dealing with child soldiers, his concerns are certainly genuine.
The confrontation really underscores a key dilemma as it regards Omar Khadr: notably, whether to treat him as a child soldier or a terrorist.
Certainly, the age at which Khadr was taken prisoner by US soldiers -- 15 years -- is of issue. There is absolutely no question Omar Khadr was a child soldier. However, there is a larger question about whether or not Khadr should be treated as a terrorist.
Dallaire insists that Khadr should be released almost immediately. But the experiences some other countries have had releasing terrorists should give Canadians cause to think twice.
Considering the experience Algeria has had with its clemency program -- in which terrorists surrendered peacefully in return for a full pardon, only to continue to plot and carry out attacks such as the various bombings this past year.
Of more concern still are the activities of Khadr's family. In particular, Abdullah Khadr, Omar's older brother, was arrested in Pakistan for buying weapons for Al Qaeda.
While Khadr's tender and impressionable age certainly warrant consideration, one must certainly consider that Abdullah Khadr -- 25 years old at the time of his arrest -- serves as an example that the militant ideology taught to them by Ahmed Said Khadr has taken root very deeply indeed.
If Omar Khadr is simply released into Canadian society, we must realize that we are taking a tremendous risk. Upon release, he very well could be a ticking time bomb.
It's important to note that Khadr's US military lawyer, Lt Cmndr William Keubler, has assessed Khadr very differently.
"The Omar Khadr they describe does not exist," Kuebler previously testified. "He is not one of our enemies in the war on terror, he is a fellow victim of those enemies."
Keubler's assessment of Khadr could very well be accurate. But Canadian officials had better be certain before releasing Khadr into the general public. The stakes are simply too high to take any unnecessary risks.
Some of Dallaire's other criticisms were spot on. The highly questionable legality of the legal proceedings -- not to mention the torture -- at Guantanamo Bay are clearly of concern to any country whose citizens are being held there.
The question is not really if the Canadian government should be seeking Khadr's release into their custody. Certainly they should. The question is what Canada should do with Khadr after taking him into custody.
It's a very contentious question, one that will continue to provoke a good deal of controversy yet. But one thing is for certain. Canada needs to bring Khadr home. His brother Abdullah's criminal responsibility is much more certain, and even he has been in Canadian custody since 2005.
"The way to sort it out is you get the prime minister of this country to call the president and say 'I want my boy out and we’ll fill out the paperwork after.' And that's it," Dallaire insisted.
Likewise, what to ultimately do with Khadr is something better left until after he's back in Canadian custody.