Canadian national: Omar Khadr|
Full name: Omar Khadr
"Young enemy combatants are treated in a manner appropriate to their age and
Letter from Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Butler to
Amnesty International, July 2003.
Omar Khadr was taken into US custody when he was 15 years old. The US
government has said that all detainees are "treated in a manner appropriate
to their age and status". If this is true, then the case of Omar Khadr
indicates that an "appropriate manner" involves torture and other cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment as well as denial of any form of justice.
Perhaps because the USA is one of only two states that have not ratified the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes that children
need special safeguards and care, it feels free to trample on the human
rights of juveniles in its "war on terror".
Omar Khadr is one of at least four and possibly nine of the current
Guantánamo Bay detainees who were aged under 18 when detained. In April 2003
the US authorities revealed that children as young as 13 were detained in
the prison. Reports of torture and attempted suicide by juvenile detainees
undermine the claim by US authorities that they are receiving "special
emotional and physical care". Contrary to international standards the
Pentagon has defined child detainees as those aged under 16, rather than
Lieutenant Corporal Johnson, a spokesperson for the US military, stated in
2003 that, "until we ensure that they're no longer a threat, that there’s no
pending law enforcement against them, that they’re no longer of intelligence
value", the children would continue to be held.
Arrest and injury
Omar Khadr was wounded by US soldiers during a battle near Khost,
Afghanistan, and taken into US custody on 27 July 2002. During his capture
he was shot three times and is nearly blind in one eye as a result of his
injuries. The US military says that Omar Khadr killed a US soldier, Sergeant
Christopher J. Speer, in the operation.
Even though Omar Khadr was seriously injured, his interrogation started as
soon as he was taken into custody. A US official stated that captured
prisoners were so scared of abuse by US soldiers that they would talk
without prompting. The prisoners "sometimes think we are going to cut out
their livers" he said, giving Omar Khadr as an example of a prisoner
singing like a bird". Omar Khadr alleges that:
he asked for pain medication for his wounds but was refused;
during interrogations a bag was placed over his head and US personnel
brought military dogs into the room to frighten him;
cold water was thrown on him;
his hands were tied above a door frame and he was forced to stand in this
position for hours;
he was not allowed to use the bathroom and was forced to urinate on himself.
On 30 August 2002 Canadian officials sent a diplomatic note to the US
authorities asking for consular access to Omar Khadr while he was held in
the US airbase at Bagram, Afghanistan. The US denied the request on 9
September, saying only that they would notify the Canadian government if any
Canadian citizens were transferred to Guantánamo Bay.
"Your life is in my hands."
Interrogator to Omar Khadr in Guantánamo.
Omar Khadr was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in October 2002. He says that
as soon as he arrived he was subjected to a range of torture and
ill-treatment that included:
being short-shackled by his hands and feet to a bolt in the floor and left
for five to six hours; occasionally a US officer would enter the room to
laugh at him;
being kept in extremely cold rooms;
being lifted up by the neck while shackled, and then dropped to the floor;
being beaten by guards;
having a finger pressed into a pressure point in his neck, causing severe
pain and inability to breathe.
He alleges that on one occasion guards left him short-shackled in an
interrogation room until he urinated on himself. Guards then poured a pine
scented cleaning fluid over him and used him as a "human mop" to clean up
the mess. He says that he was not provided with clean clothes for several
days after this degradation.
Omar Khadr was held in Camp V of Guantánamo Bay for over a year and,
according to his lawyer, was only transferred recently to Camp IV. Camp V is
the most notorious of the camps still operating at Guantánamo, styled on the
harsh super-maximum security units on the US mainland. It is reserved for
high value" or "uncooperative" detainees.
Omar Khadr says of his time in Camp V:
the lights were kept on 24 hours a day and detainees were punished for
trying to cover the lights with their clothes;
the air conditioning was kept on cold, which he says "destroyed his lungs";
he was routinely placed in isolation, sometimes for up to a month;
he was only allowed exercise once every four or five days, and in 2005 went
without exercise in daylight hours for several months.
In addition to the beatings, isolation and frequent interrogations, Omar
Khadr has been threatened with transfer to Afghanistan, Jordan and other
places. He understood that these were threats of transfer to places where he
would be tortured. He was also told that an Egyptian soldier, known to him
only as Soldier Number 9, would be sent to rape him.
In protest against his treatment and conditions at Guantánamo, Omar Khadr
embarked on a hunger strike in July 2005 along with up to 200 other
detainees. He went without food for 15 days, during which he was taken to
the camp hospital twice to be given intravenous fluids. Omar Khadr lost 30
pounds (13.5kg) during the strike. Another detainee, Omar Deghayes, says he
witnessed Omar Khadr vomiting blood.
During the hunger stirke the abuse did not stop. On one occasion, when
guards were transferring him to the hospital, he was told to walk back to
his cell. As he was too weak to do so, the guards allegedly lifted him off
the ground and repeatedly kicked his leg.
The hunger strike ended in July when the US authorities apparently made a
number of concessions to the detainees. The detainees resumed their hunger
strike in August, however, because the camp authorities had not kept their
promises and in response to particularly brutal abuse. One of those at the
receiving end of a beating was Omar Khadr.
"Get ready for a miserable life."
Interrogator to Omar Khadr in Guantánamo.
In November 2004, Omar Khadr’s lawyers gave him a series of psychological
tests which were sent to independent psychiatrists for evaluation. In answer
to some of the questions Omar Khadr stated that he had flashbacks,
difficulty sleeping and had heard voices when no one was there.
Dr Eric W. Trupin, an expert on the mental health of juveniles in
correctional facilities, evaluated the tests. He said Omar Khadr’s symptoms
were "consistent with those exhibited by victims of torture" and called for
the immediate cessation of mental and physical abuse". He noted that the
conditions in which Omar Khadr was held were particularly harmful to
adolescents. He concluded that Omar Khadr had a mental disorder "including
but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder" and that he was "a
moderate to high risk of suicide".
Government lawyers sought to cast doubt on the doctors’ diagnosis by saying
they had relied on second hand testimony, overlooking the dark irony that
the same government was denying any kind of independent medical evaluation.
Role of Canadian authorities
"I'm not here to help you. I'm not here to do anything for you. I'm just
here to get information."
Canadian interrogator to Omar Khadr in Guantánamo.
Flying in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Canadian
government accepted the promise of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell,
who stated that "all enemy combatants at Guantánamo are treated humanely"
when writing to the Canadian authorities about Omar Khadr.
The Canadian government may not simply have neglected their responsibilities
towards Omar Khadr. It may also have been complicit in his detention and
Omar Khadr has been interrogated several times by Canadian officials.
According to papers filed in a US court, Omar Khadr was visited by Canadian
officials four times in four days, starting on 27 March 2003. Rather than
asking about his health or if he wanted to send a message to his family, the
Canadian officials interrogated him.
Canadian lawyers for Omar Khadr filed a lawsuit against the Canadian
government, arguing that the authorities had violated the Canadian
Constitution by "participating in interviews or interrogations without a
lawyer being present, without [Omar Khadr] being allowed access to consular
representation to get advice, without him being allowed to speak to family
Another lawsuit attempted to force the Canadian government to release all
its files on Omar Khadr. The government argued that doing so would "be
injurious to international relations, national defense or national security"
A memo of William Hooper, Assistant Director of Operations at the Canadian
Security Intelligence Service, which was made public as a result of this
case, revealed the logic of the government’s neglect of the human rights of
one of its citizens. It states that "any efforts to limit or fetter the
service’s investigative powers… will hamper the service’s ability to advise
the Canadian government".
The Canadian government has since written to Amnesty International stating
that it has raised the allegations of abuse of Omar Khadr with the US
government. It said it was engaged in "ongoing diplomatic discussions" with
the US regarding his legal status and had requested an independent medical
The US government alleges that Omar Khadr is an "al-Qa’ida fighter" and has
classified him as an "enemy combatant". Despite this, it has refused to
charge Omar Khadr with a recognizably criminal offence and give him a full
and fair trial.
Instead, the US Department of Defense announced on 7 November 2005 that Omar Khadr is to be tried by military commission, though they will not seek the death penalty in his case. The military commissions are executive bodies with the power to hand down death sentences against which there is no right of appeal to any court. The military commissions are fundamentally flawed and cannot provide fair trials in accordance with internationally recognized standards