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An "Unpriviliged Combatant"

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
An "Unpriviliged Combatant"

By Brandon Gray

It is not often that white people in imperialist countries like Canada get to know the individual names and faces of the people their government kills and maims. The Vietnam War is remembered as tragic because of the near 60,000 American lives lost, whereas the three to six million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians killed remain long forgotten, if ever known at all. Omar Khadr, a fifteen year old Canadian citizen of Afghan origin is a rare exception to this rule, and the fact that he was convicted for war crimes offers a fitting example of the type of justice found under the jackboot of Anglo-American imperialism.

Though he should have qualified as a child soldier under international law, on October 31st Omar was sentenced to forty years incarceration, thereby becoming the youngest person ever convicted of war crimes in the history of the United States. His trial by a special military tribunal was as farcical as it was tragic. Under the terms of a plea deal, he will only serve one more year in Guantanamo Bay (for a total of eight years), before being transferred to Canadian custody - where it is possible that he could soon be released under special conditions. And so there you have the perverse form of justice mustered by the imperialist military court: a backhanded recognition that they did not have a case coupled with an abject willingness to squander years more of young Omar’s life, barring some formal pretense of an admission for their media to work with. Make no mistake, Omar Khadr pled guilty to spying, murder, and terrorism in return for a shot at escaping the nightmare that is the Guantanamo Bay military prison.

On 27 July 2002 U.S. Special Forces and Afghan militia members attacked a farming compound in Afghanistan in which Omar was staying under the guardianship of his father. Aerial bombing destroyed the building, killing nearly everyone inside, blinding Omar and half burying him under rubble. It is within this context that Army prosecutors claim Omar threw a grenade that killed one of the attack team members, Sgt. Christopher Speer. Several soldiers’ testimonies critically contradicted the prosecution's case by noting the existence of another, older man that survived the airstrike. To be sure, Omar had been shot three times and lay unarmed and dying when he was taken into U.S. custody.

Omar was taken to Bagram Prison and interrogated by Sgt. Joshua Claus. Claus was later convicted of torturing to death a twenty-two year old taxi driver named Dilowar, at around the same time and at the same facility - a fact the government tried to suppress. Dilowar was hung from the ceiling of his cell and struck repeatedly at the back of his knees, causing blood clots that travelled to his brain and killed him. Beating a detainee's knees and legs while he is hanging from the ceiling is a systematized and documented government technique known as “common peroneal strikes” and so the prosecution's claim that Claus did not use a similar form of torture when interrogating Omar is rather dubious.

In a written affidavit, the teenager described his treatment when he fell into the hands of the American military:

“During this first interrogation, the young blonde man [Claus] would often scream at me if I did not give him the answers he wanted. Several times, he forced me to sit up on my stretcher, which caused me great pain due to my injuries. He did this several times to get me to answer his questions and give him the answers he wanted. It was clear that he was making me sit up because he knew that it hurt and he wanted me to answer questions. I cried several times during the interrogation as a result of this treatment and pain.” [1]

The immense pain caused by his bullet wounds had the expected effect on the child. As Omar attests, “I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear in order to keep them from causing me such pain.”[2]

Taking confessions under extreme pain is well understood to be an ineffective method for obtaining accurate information, no matter how convenient the statements beaten out of people may be for prosecutors and the massive killing apparatus they represent. Thus, right from the moment they first laid their hands on Omar, the U.S. Military showed no interest in anything resembling due process or normal justice.

What followed can only be described as a nightmare. Omar was thrown from his stretcher to the ground, cutting his knee. He was doused with buckets of cold water, had barking dogs jumping at his face, a bag tied tightly around his neck making it hard to breath, and was chained to the ceiling by his hands - despite the immense pain this caused to the bullet wounds in his shoulder and chest. He was awakened in the middle of the night to scrub the floor of his cell until dawn and made to carry heavy buckets of water while his wounds were still healing. Interrogators threatened to have him raped or to be sent to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, or Israel for rape and more severe torture. He was forced to do pointless work and denied access to a toilet, so that he urinated on himself. Bright lights were shined close to his injured eyes, causing him great pain. The prison was filled with the screams of detainees and the yells of interrogators like Claus. Interrogators informed Omar that they had tortured an old man - whom he had earlier seen in their custody - to death.

Once at Guantanamo, he was finally seen by Canadian officers - to whom he pleaded for help and told of his treatment and innocence. Within a day of the last visit from the Canadians, Omar's status was changed from Level 1 to Level 4 minus, with isolation. His blanket and Koran were taken from him and he was kept in a cell as cold as a refrigerator. He was told that a new facility for non-cooperative detainees was being built back in Afghanistan for small boys like him to be raped.

In the spring of 2003, one interrogator disliked his answers and spat in his face and pulled his hair; Omar then recalls being told “that the Egyptians would send in 'Askri raqm tisa' – Soldier Number 9 — which was explained to me as a man who would be sent to rape me.” On two occasions during that spring, he was taken out of his cell after midnight and cuffed in various 'stress' positions to the floor of an interrogation cell. When he urinated himself, military police poured pine oil on him and the floor, dragged him around in it and then refused to give him a change of clothes for two days. [3] Omar is now into his seventh year at this hellish facility.

Rhuhel Ahmed was one of three British nationals who were all declared innocent and released from Guantanamo Bay. The men shared a cell block with Omar, who would regularly talk with them. In a composite statement, Rhuhel testified that,

“[h]e had been shot three times at point blank range and his lung punctured and had shrapnel in one eye and a cataract in the other. They would not operate on him. He was told that was because he would not cooperate. We were told one time when he was in isolation he was on the floor very badly ill. The guards called the medics and they said they couldn’t see him because the interrogators had refused to let them. We don’t know what happened to him (he had had some sort of operation when he was still in Afghanistan but he was in constant pain in Guantanamo and still undoubtedly is and they would not give him pain killers.”[4]

Denial of medical care to correspond with interrogation can hardly be blamed on the excess of lowly officers, given that it was declared a national security threat to give Omar sunglasses to shield his wounded eyes from damaging and painfully bright light. [5] Furthermore, not only did the Canadian government fail to offer so much as a gesture of legal support for their citizen, they spent $1.3 million trying to keep him there! [6]

Omar was tried by a U.S. Military tribunal as an 'unprivileged combatant' because he did not wear a uniform or conform to the conventional definition of a solider. He courageously resisted this legal frame up, firing his legal team and refusing to take any plea deals that validated the criminal process being used against him. In a letter to his remaining lawyer, Dennis Edney, Omar bravely articulated his position:

“About this whole MC [Military Court] thing we all don’t believe in and know it’s unfair and know Dennis that there must be somebody to sacrifice to really show the world the unfairness, and really it seems that it’s me. Know Dennis that I don’t want that, I want my freedom and life, but I really don’t see it coming from this way. Dennis you always say that I have an obligation to show the world what is going on down here and it seems that we’ve done everything but the world doesn’t get it, so it might work if the world sees the U.S. sentencing a child to life in prison, it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is, and if the world doesn’t see all this, to what world am I being released to? A world of hate, unjust and discrimination! I really don’t want to live in a life like this. Dennis justice and freedom have a very high cost and value, and history is a good witness to it, not too far ago or far away how many people sacrificed for the civil right law to take effect. Dennis I hate being the head of the spear, but life has put me, and as life have put me in the past in hard position and still is, I just have to deal with it and hope for the best results.” [7]

What soundness of mind and clarity of principle! It must be said that Omar Khadr did his best to the very end to defend the concept of justice before accepting a plea deal - and this is a heroic accomplishment.

The Khadr case highlights and reiterates the brutal reality that foreign conquests of Anglo-American, European and Japanese capital have always been accompanied by campaigns of lies, punctuated with cruel, calculated barbarity. The real war criminals in this conflict wear the various officer uniforms of the American, British, and Canadian military, but these individuals cannot be fairly tried for their crimes in anything but a revolutionary court. Those who see the dire need to overthrow capitalism, including all its imperialist occupations, must share the vicious travesty of the Khadr case with those “normal Canadians” who have willingly swallowed the lies of their exploiters. By doing so, we can perhaps make something positive come from the fact that this young man, who wants “to be as normal as any normal unknown Canadian” has, through ruthless persecution, become known to so many.


[1] Omar Khadr “AFFIDAVIT OF OMAR AHMED KHADR” 22 February 2008 ss.11

[2] Ibid, ss.12

[3] Ibid, ss.17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,29,30,50,53,55,56,59

[4] Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed. Composite statement: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 26 July 2004, p.109

[5] “Lawyer paints dark picture of client” Edmonton Journal 24 April 2008

[6] Allan Woods and Michelle Shepherd “Omar Khadr case cost Ottawa $1.3 million” Toronto Star 29 October 2009

[7] Omar Khadr “Letter of 26 May 2010”

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Linchpin (Linchpin Newspaper)
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Linchpin is the newspaper of the Ontario anarchist organization Common Cause.

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