Omar Khadr is often referred to as a convicted war criminal and murderer. In a sense, he is: In 2010, he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, spying and providing material support to terrorism, along with attempted murder and murder.
But there's a giant, glowing asterisk attached to all of that. The American military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay that convicted Mr. Khadr was not a normal court. It was a pantomime of justice, removed from the normal American legal system, and relying on made-up rules and novel legal interpretations. The main evidence against him was a confession, obtained years earlier under what any reasonable person would describe as abuse or torture. And before he pled guilty, it was made clear that unless he did so, he faced a lifetime of detention without trial. He had at that point already spent nearly a decade in American custody, held in places that were for a time entirely removed from the realm of law, where abuse and torture were standard operating procedure.
Mr. Khadr was sentenced by a kangaroo court, one worthy of a Middle Eastern dictatorship or Kafka short story. Or as the Alberta Court of Appeal put it this week, in drily damning language, "the legal process under which Khadr was held and the evidence elicited from him have been found to have violated both the Charter and international human rights law." The Supreme Court of Canada has also said as much.
Mr. Khadr was a minor when the alleged crimes were committed; he was just 15 when captured on the battlefield, severely wounded. That's why the Alberta court ordered that as he continue serving his sentence in a Canadian prison, he be transferred from federal custody to a provincial facility. Under Canadian law, when the things he is accused of occurred, he was a kid. Under international law, he was a child soldier, more victim – of al-Quaeda and his own family – than accomplice.
There are some who seem to believe that treating Mr. Khadr anything other than harshly is an appeasement of terrorism, or a spit in the face of our American allies, or a shot against our brave soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. But what were we fighting for in Afghanistan except the hope that others might one day live in a society like ours: A society built on justice and the rule of law.