Trial of "Child Soldier" Opens at Guantanamo
By Megan Iacobini de Fazio
August 10, 2010, Inter Press Service
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 10, 2010 (IPS) - Omar Khadr was only 15
when he was captured by U.S. forces in 2002 in Afghanistan.
Now, eight years later, the 23-year-old is on trial in
Guantanamo Bay, in the first military commission trial since
the beginning of the Barack Obama administration.
The Pentagon-appointed defence attorney, Lt. Colonel Jon
Jackson, has called the case "the first one against a child
soldier in history".
Khadr, a Canadian citizen, is accused of throwing a hand
grenade and killing a U.S. Special Forces soldier during a
U.S. bombardment of an al Qaeda compound in the eastern
Afghan city of Khost.
Ahmed Khadr, Omar's father, was an Egyptian-born Canadian
citizen who was linked to senior levels of bin Laden's al
Qaeda network in the 1980s. In 1993, he moved his family to
Afghanistan from where he allegedly sent money to al Qaeda.
The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for
Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told IPS
that "The U.N. has advocated repeatedly that no child, abused
in war time as a child soldier or porter or war wife, should
be held personally responsible for the acts and orders of
She also urged the two countries, which are both parties to
the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict, "to
allow for Omar's reintegration into society through
rehabilitation programmes", adding that to her knowledge
"much has been done to prepare such programmes in Canada".
The statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) states
that no one under the age of 18 should be tried for war
crimes. Prosecutors in other international tribunals have
also used their discretion not to prosecute children in the
In addition, there seems to be little or no evidence that
Khadr actually threw the grenade that killed the soldier,
other than "confessions" allegedly obtained under suspicious
Khadr's lawyer claims that the accused was interrogated in at
the U.S.-run Bagram air base while still recovering from
serious injuries, which included two gunshot wounds and
shrapnel in his face and eye. He was also threatened with
rape in a U.S. prison, one interrogator confirmed, and
promised a return to Canada if he told the interrogators what
they wanted to hear.
During a hearing in May, the interrogators involved claimed
they had treated Khadr very well, but did admit that he was
threatened and interrogated while still severely wounded.
These abusive interrogation methods are in violation of
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and other humane
treatment international standards.
Patrick Parish, the military judge working on the case in
Guantanamo, has decided to admit the statements extrapolated
during these interrogations into court.
Prosecutor Jeff Groharing has tried to depict Khadr as a
committed and informed al Qaeda fighter, claiming that he
"embraced [the al Qaeda ideology] and used it to justify his
activities". In contrast, his defence attorney has described
him as a child forced into war by adults.
Aside from the controversy about the detention and treatment
of Omar Khadr, there is also a debate about the fairness of
Earlier this month Khadr's lawyer filed a petition with the
U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that commissions are
unconstitutional because they offer a lower standard of
justice to foreign citizens, whilst U.S. nationals also get
the protection of a federal court.
"The United Nations continues to insist that children accused
of crimes, as distinct from war crimes, must be tried in
accordance with the rules and procedures which respect and
respond to his minority at the time of the alleged offence"
Coomaraswamy told IPS, adding that "Clearly, no military
tribunal, which I am aware of, meets these international
Anthony Lake, the executive director of the U.N. children's
agency UNICEF, has also spoken against children under 18
being tried for war crimes.
The U.S. and Canada were amongst the countries that worked to
persuade the Security Council to create and implement norms
for the protection of children in conflict.
It is now their duty, Coomaraswamy commented, "to come to a
mutually acceptable solution on the future of Omar Khadr that
would prevent him from being convicted of a war crime he
allegedly committed when he was a child".
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