Since his 2002 capture in Afghanistan, the detention of Omar Khadr has been a matter of considerable debate. In 2010, after eight years in Guantanamo, he pled guilty to offences associated with his status as an enemy combatant and was sentenced to eight more years. At some time he will be transferred to Canadian custody.
A section of Canadian opinion views Khadr as a child soldier (he was 15 when captured) and a victim of torture and urges his rapid repatriation.
When Omar Khadr is released he will probably still support the Jihad.
Countervailing opinion is less sympathetic. His family is notoriously affiliated with al Qaeda and Khadr had taken up arms against our allies. This school sees no reason to hurry to repatriate Khadr and views him as a continuing security risk. The Canadian government is in this camp.
Most of us recognize the tragedy of child soldiers torn from their families, brutally conditioned, strung out on drugs, and set loose with Kalashnikovs.
In 1916 the author’s grandfather, 15 years old at the time, fraudulently enlisted on his fourth attempt and went to WW1 four years underage with the Canadian Army. Nobody ever thought of him as a child soldier.
Omar Khadr’s family is strongly linked to al Qaeda since the 1990s. His father, Ahmed Khadr, was killed in 2003 in a Pakistani Army raid on an al Qaeda safe house. His sister Zaynab’s 1999 wedding was attended by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
His brother Abdullah was a member of al Qaeda when arrested in 2004. Another brother, Abdulkareem, was maimed in the same skirmish that killed his father. His other brother, Abduraham, refused to join al Qaeda but was drafted into the Taliban. After a stay in Guantanamo, he surfaced in Canada in 2004.
“Child Soldiers” are torn from their families. This does not seem to be the case with the Khadr family. Moreover, Omar could have emulated his brother Abduraham.
In traditional Islamic culture, adulthood comes with the onset of puberty. Omar’s choices were his own, made as an adult in the eyes of his family and under their belief system..
The root of “repatriation” is “patria,” Latin for “Fatherland.” While Canadians seldom think of Canada as our “Fatherland” we can grasp the idea.
The Khadrs have a strong affinity for another identity which sees the Islamic Ummah as their true home. Nation states are irrelevant, save as a convenience, and have no claim to their affections or their loyalty. Omar Khadr is Canadian in name only.
When Omar Khadr is transferred to Canadian custody, he will have to serve the rest of the eight- year sentence that he received on Oct. 26, 2010. On the same date in 2018, he must be freed.
Civil libertarians argue that abuse and torture regularly occur in Guantanamo. Others disagree.
There is another dimension. Taqiyyah (telling lies) and Kitman (being misleading) are practices embraced by the Jihad movement. Al Qaeda training manuals state that supporters who are captured should state they were tortured whenever possible. The veracity of many former Guantanamo inmates is questionable.
Did Omar Khadr suffer unconstitutional abuse in Guantanamo Bay? Probably. Will we get an accurate depiction of it? Probably not.
To embrace a greater purpose than oneself, as supporters of al Qaeda have, is to substitute an ideology for independent thinking. The ideology justifies and excuses all. The younger individuals are when they embrace an ideology, the more likely they will be guided by it for life. This is why so many ideologues concentrate so much effort on getting access to the young.
There are two ways that an ideologue usually breaks free: If the ideology is broken in war or if it becomes completely corrupted.
When Omar Khadr is released he will probably still support the Jihad. Perhaps the shocks of his life have freed him, but it seems no such transition has occurred.
Canada must accept Omar Khadr from Guantanamo and eventually release him from custody. Notwithstanding pleas for sympathy on his part, there is no reason to extend any.
There are demands that the government swiftly bring him “home,” but no compelling reasons to do so without taking a careful look at every aspect of his behaviour.
John Thompson has spent 27 years studying terrorism and radical ideologies.
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