In shackles and flanked by military guards, Omar Khadr will be taken this week from the razor-wire-ringed Guantanamo Bay prison compound where he has spent almost a third of his life to a military tribunal court for pre-trial hearings. On Monday morning, a gaggle of media, international rights observers, military prosecutors and defence lawyers will fly to Guantanamo for the proceedings. Among them will be Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr's Canadian civilian attorneys. Mr. Whitling offered the following views on the forthcoming trial of the only Canadian facing war crimes and terrorism charges at Guantanamo.
Omar Khadr was captured on an Afghan battlefield nearly eight years ago. He faces charges as a war criminal and terrorist. Can he get a fair trial under the Bush-era military tribunals retained by the Obama administration?
No way. Imagine if you were charged with killing a police officer, and when you got to court you noticed that the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, and your own defence lawyer were all police officers wearing the same uniform as the deceased officer. Do you think you'd get a fair trial and an impartial verdict? And ask yourself: If this is a fair system, why is it illegal to subject American citizens to it? Aren't Canadian citizens entitled to an equal level of justice?
Do you believe Omar Khadr was abused and tortured?
Yes. But you don't have to take my word for it. Read the report of the Senate armed services committee previously chaired by Republican SenatorJohn McCain. And Damien Corsetti, one of the U.S. Army interrogators in Bagram, Afghanistan, when Omar was being mistreated, freely admits that egregiously abusive practices described by Omar were standard operating procedure. One day interrogators would beat Omar, chain him to a ceiling and leave him hogtied in stress positions in a pool of urine. The next day, polite and friendly interrogators would offer Omar treats and say they wanted to help him. Of course, it's the nice interrogators that the prosecution will call as witnesses, where they will testify that they didn't personally torture Omar. The reason these "military commissions" exist is to allow in evidence that would be rejected as unreliable by any real court.
Why do you think President Barack Obama's administration is proceeding with this case?
President Obama has failed to make good on his own promises to close Guantanamo Bay or to fix the unfair military commission system. Powerful interests, including some in the Pentagon, are gung-ho on obtaining whatever convictions they possibly can - even if it's just a wrongly accused child soldier. To date, President Obama has lacked the courage and leadership to stop them.
What could the Canadian government do for Mr. Khadr, the only Canadian in Guantanamo and the only Westerner whose government hasn't demanded that its citizens be returned home by Washington?
The Canadian government should demand Omar be repatriated to Canada. In the alternative, it should demand that the U.S. government give him a real trial in a real court.
From your contacts with Mr. Khadr, can you offer a glimpse of his state of mind and his hopes for the future?
Omar is trying to maintain the same brave face and positive outlook that he has had since he was moved out of that dreadful Camp VI. As the U.S. prison staff say, he's a "good kid, non-radicalized and salvageable." But he's scared about his upcoming trial. He knows that it's rigged against him, and he's afraid that he's going to be convicted for something he didn't do.