Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, may be the only person in recent history convicted of (or even charged with) war crimes for offences committed when he was a juvenile. Canadians have a right to hear from him. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews won’t let them. He overruled a prison warden’s decision that would have allowed the Canadian Press to interview him.
For what possible reason would Mr. Toews interfere in an interview request with a prisoner? It is impossible to see how an interview would affect public safety. The only imaginable reason is political – a desire by at least some in the government to continue cultivating an image of Mr. Khadr, now 26, as an implacable terrorist. Allowing Canadians to come to their own opinion matters not at all.
Virtually from beginning to end, Mr. Khadr’s story has been bizaare. His father was a senior member of al-Qaeda who raised him from the age of 11 in Afghanistan, among terrorists. At 15 he was accused of killing a U.S. soldier and seriously wounding another in a battle in which he was wounded and barely survived. The U.S. passed a law saying it was a war crime for anyone to engage its soldiers in battle in Afghanistan. (A U.S. federal court have since said in two other cases that the country couldn’t create such war crimes after the fact.) For the next decade he was held in U.S. custody, mostly among the adult terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while Canada largely stood by. He was subjected to rough interrogations, and pleaded guilty in coercive conditions before a military tribunal. He may soon come up for a parole hearing in Canada.
There’s a lot Canadians would like to know. What does he think about his family’s support for al-Qaeda, and his own participation in a terrorist group? What was it like in Guantanamo? Why did he plead guilty? What are his aspirations? How can Canadians ever feel comfortable that he has left the terrorism of his youth behind?
Mr. Khadr should be treated as a prisoner like any other. The government of Canada, which has already been unanimously condemned by the Supreme Court for participating in violations of Mr. Khadr’s rights while he was in Guantanamo, should not be ordering a warden to keep a reporter away from him. Canadians have a right to find out who he is.