[Stoptorture] LA Times: Captured at 15, sent to GTMO

Deborah Popowski dpopowski at law.harvard.edu
Mon Jun 25 15:03:50 EDT 2007

Guantanamo inmate center of debate
The Canadian was 15 when he was detained by the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Critics say Ottawa is failing to aid a citizen.

By Maggie Farley
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 24, 2007

TORONTO * Omar Khadr, 20, is an unlikely poster boy for international

When he was 15, the Canadian landed in the U.S. military prison at
Guantanamo after allegedly killing an Army medic during fighting in

His family has been dubbed "the First Family of Terrorism" in Canada:
They lived in Osama bin Laden's Afghan compound, and his father
reportedly helped channel money to Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist
network. Almost every family member has either been killed, wounded,
imprisoned or investigated because of suspected terrorist connections.

But for human rights groups, Khadr has become a symbol of what they call
the flaws of the U.S. military justice system and Canada's conciliation.

This month, U.S. military commission judges dropped all charges against
Khadr, ruling that military tribunals were for "unlawful enemy
combatants" and that he, like all other suspects in Guantanamo, was
classified only as an "enemy combatant."

The Pentagon says it will appeal the decision, and State Department
legal advisor John Bellinger said the U.S. believed international law
allows it to hold suspects until the end of the conflict in question,
even if they are acquitted.

"That means, innocent or not, he may never get out of there," said
Khadr's lawyer, Dennis Edney. "If it were your child, your heart would

Critics say that the case's dismissal calls into question the whole
legal basis of the tribunals and that Canada should bring Khadr home to
be tried. But Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay said the government
would wait until "the appeal process has been exhausted" before calling
for Khadr's release.

Now the case of the boy who has come of age in legal limbo has fueled a
debate in Canada about whether the government is putting relations with
the United States over its willingness to protect its citizens' rights.
The question has evolved from "Is Omar Khadr a terrorist?" to "Why are
his rights not worth standing up for?"

"We have raised concerns about Khadr's case for four years, but this
trial highlights how flawed, ad hoc and broken this whole process is,"
said Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International in
Canada. Neve recently released an open letter calling on Prime Minister
Stephen Harper to intervene, as other countries have. Britain, France
and Germany were successful with demands that their citizens and
permanent residents be returned to stand trial, and an Australian
detainee, David Hicks, was sent home to serve his sentence.

"Canada is generally reluctant to be too harsh or critical in cases like
this because we don't want to disturb wider U.S.-Canada relations," Neve
said. All Canadians expect their government to ensure their proper
treatment if jailed elsewhere, he said, and that includes Khadr. "Canada
must make it clear to the U.S. government Omar Khadr must be returned
here, where his case will be dealt with fairly."

The letter's signers included two former foreign affairs ministers, 25
current and former members of Parliament, and lawyers, academics and
representatives of human rights groups.

"We are aware that, setting aside any of Khadr's own actions, the
notoriety of his family makes him unsympathetic in the eyes of some,"
the letter said. "But it is plainly unjust to punish the son for the
sins of the fathers, or to deny a citizen the protection of his
government because of the words or deeds of family members."

In a militant compound

After four hours of U.S. bombing of an Al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan
in July 2002, there was one person left alive in the rubble, the
military says * Khadr. The 15-year-old, fluent in English, Arabic and
the local Pashtun dialect, had been sent by his father to interpret for
a senior Al Qaeda official. His mother said he was sent without her
knowledge and was with the militants against her wishes.

"He was not there to fight," she said.

But when U.S. troops approached the crumbling wall that shielded him,
the military said, Khadr lobbed a grenade, killing Army Sgt. 1st Class
Christopher J. Speer and wounding Army Sgt. Layne Morris.

American soldiers found Khadr hemorrhaging from three gunshot wounds in
the chest and blinded by shrapnel in one eye.

"Kill me," he begged in English, according to the soldiers' accounts. As
one American medic lay mortally wounded, another medic saved Khadr's
life. After Khadr recovered, he was shipped to Guantanamo to become the
first child in modern history to be charged with war crimes.

At the military prison, he is kept in Camp 6, shackled to the floor in
deep solitary confinement. His status as a minor did not bring him any
special treatment, and though he joined a hunger strike twice to protest
harsh treatment, Canada sent officials to check on his welfare only two
or three times.

Khadr's lawyer, Edney, said he was shocked when he faced his client in
person for the first time, a few weeks ago before the trial, after years
of petitioning for a visit.

Khadr's hair and beard have grown long, Edney said, and he has withdrawn
deeply into his mind after five years with little human contact.

"No one will touch him," Edney said. "He is treated like a germ."

Family ties

Edney said he sees his job in part to bring Khadr back into the world.
But there is a larger principle that keeps him working without pay for
Canada's most notorious family.

"Omar was 15. How did he become a terrorist on a battlefield?" Edney
asked. "At the end of the day, if there is going to be any finger
pointed at Omar Khadr's being in Afghanistan, it should be at the parents."

U.S. prosecutors say Khadr was part of a dynasty of terrorism, an intent
killer who had been learning to handle weapons since he was 12.

"You'll see evidence when we get into the courtroom of the smiling face
of Omar Khadr as he builds bombs to kill Americans," said the chief
prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, citing videotapes allegedly
taken at Al Qaeda training camps. "I don't think it's a great leap to
figure out why we're holding him accountable. They weren't making
s'mores and learning how to tie knots."

His father, Ahmed, was an Egyptian-born computer engineer who moved to
Pakistan to help support the militants fighting the Russians in
Afghanistan, and later, officials allege, became a top aide to Bin Laden.

Ahmed knew Bin Laden well, but he was involved with a charity, not Al
Qaeda, said his wife, Maha Elsamnah, 49. He sent his sons for guerrilla
training as if it were summer camp.

"It was just to teach them discipline, to keep them out of trouble," she
said. He also taught his sons and daughters about the importance of
jihad * holy war * and that they should be proud to defend their ideals
to the end.

"My father said you have to have a belief, and fight for it, even die
for it," said Omar's 27-year-old sister, Zaynab, who recalls playing
with Bin Laden's daughters, his attendance at her wedding, and her "awe"
at the news of the Sept. 11 attacks. "So that's what they were planning
for the last two years," she said she remembers thinking.

Conflicting values

Ahmed's sons listened to their father, and whether or not they joined Al
Qaeda, they all are now in some sort of trouble because of the clash
between the beliefs of their father and the values of their Canadian

Ahmed died in an attack on an Al Qaeda compound in Pakistan in 2003; his
son Kareem, 14 at the time, was hit in the spine and paralyzed from the
waist down. Abdullah, now 26, has been in jail in Toronto for 18 months
pending U.S. extradition hearings on charges that he procured weapons
for terrorist groups. Omar is in Guantanamo.

A fourth son, Abdurahman, 24, was in Guantanamo until he agreed to work
for the CIA as a mole in Bosnia. After his cover was blown there, he
returned to Toronto, where he denounced his brothers for their Al Qaeda

He now lives uncomfortably with his mother, sisters and paralyzed
brother in a modest apartment in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough.
While he was at work, his mother and sister Zaynab launched into a long
discussion of Abdurahman.

"He's the one who got Abdullah in trouble," Zaynab said. "He's the one
who testified against Omar in Guantanamo. He said it to get out of there."

"He was used!" shouted Maha, his mother.

"He wasn't used! He agreed to it!" Zaynab shot back.

They fell silent, as they thought of Omar, and their phone conversation
with him just a few weeks ago, the first they have been allowed in five

"No matter who he is or what he has done," Zaynab said, "there should be
justice for my brother."

maggie.farley at latimes.com
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