The last federal government lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court of Canada in defence of Ottawa's handling of Omar Khadr's imprisonment was beaten to a bloody pulp - figuratively speaking - by all nine judges. From Ottawa's standpoint, the hearing couldn't have been uglier. And the ruling was 9-0 for Mr. Khadr.
Having defended the indefensible, and lost, Ottawa is back today to seek a victory that is not worth winning. The issue is once again related to Mr. Khadr's incarceration in the U.S. prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Federal Court of Appeal says Ottawa must ask the United States to release Mr. Khadr to Canada, because it colluded in an extreme abuse of his rights abroad. The Canadian government replies that it has no "duty to protect." It wishes to establish the government's right to participate in the foreign abuses of a Canadian citizen. Some right.
Maybe because Mr. Khadr's family includes outspoken terrorist sympathizers and a dead former associate of Osama bin Laden, and he has therefore attracted no groundswell of support, Ottawa seems determined to do the wrong thing. Mr. Khadr was a 15-year-old raised partly in al-Qaeda camps when he was arrested by the United States after a battle in Afghanistan. He was held for more than two years without counsel or the age-old right to plead his case before an impartial judge. The military-commission system set up to try terrorism suspects was (under the rules at the time) allowed to use information gleaned under coercion. Mr. Khadr was interrogated more than 100 times without counsel. Potentially he faced, and still faces, life in prison, if found guilty of the war crime of murder.
And what did Canada do? It sent officials to interrogate him, without counsel present, and turned over the fruits of the interrogations to U.S. authorities. Canada's foreign affairs officials (under a Liberal government) knew before one such interrogation that he had been subject to three weeks of sleep deprivation, an abuse verging on torture. So it was willing to let a Canadian be imprisoned for life at least partly on the basis of information it supplied in abusive conditions. It exploited the abuse of a Canadian. Mr. Khadr was a teenager at the time.
Mr. Khadr is now 23, and has been held for seven years. All other Western countries have long since brought their nationals out of Guantanamo. The unpopularity of Mr. Khadr or his family will count for nothing in court. All that matters is the principle, and Ottawa's is not worth defending.