A dusty July day in Ayub Khyel would set the stage for a monumental breach in the appropriate treatment of child soldiers.
It was in this barren Afghani village that a bright-eyed young teenager launched the grenade that would kill Sgt. Christopher Speer, a Delta Force medic, and rob Layne Morris of sight in one eye. The boy would emerge from his ordeal scathed brutally, injured in the firefight that ensued between the Taliban and U.S. soldiers. But physical injury would not be the only barrier he would have to face.
For him, it was only the beginning of eight years pockmarked by psychological trauma, spearheaded by the American government in their thirst for information. But who was this boy? What circumstances had prompted him to fight for a notorious terrorist organization?
And why has his name suddenly been plastered across the front of Canadian politics?
Born a Canadian citizen in Toronto on September 19, 1986 to Egyptian and Palestinian immigrants, Omar Khadr spent his childhood rooted in frequent upheaval between Canada and Pakistan. In 1996, Omar’s father, Ahmed Khadr, eventually settled the family for good in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. But the family would never again see stability for their collective happiness.
Associated with multiple terrorist cells including Al-Qaeda and the Mujahedeen, Ahmed Khadr was a fanatic rumored to have a close personal relationship with Osama Bin-Laden himself. A strong believer in Jihad, the terrorist had set his son Omar up with a Taliban unit based in the mountainous Khost region in June 2002. Having both received weapons’ training and being told of a $1,500 bounty for every American killed in Afghanistan, Omar began walking the path of radical terrorism. Courtesy of his father.
Now giving the spotlight to a group of American soldiers, one month later:
In the early hours of July 27, 2002, a seven-man squad of American soldiers were sent to investigate the site of a mysterious phone call in the Khost province. Reaching a residential complex that appeared peaceful with several children playing in the swirling dust, and an old man sleeping peacefully under a neem tree, the scene was nothing short of a build-up of a movie climax.
…residential complex with earthen huts and a granary surrounded by a 10-foot stone wall; green metal gate approximately 100 meters from the main hut.
– Delta Force battleground description
The only visible threat was from five men sitting in the main residence of the complex, AK-47 rifles lying beside them. Diplomatic efforts to communicate eventually evolved into a full-blown grenade battle. With the continuous flow of reinforcements from Warthog jets and Apache helicopters through the grey morning, the firefight was winding down. The compound was strafed mercilessly with rocket fire, obliterating the entire structure. The area was littered with the mutilated bodies of militants, but the soldiers had let their guard down slightly too soon.
The ground forces sent a team of troops to explore the South Side of the complex, unaware that Omar had miraculously survived the attack. A grenade suddenly flew over the heads of three Delta Force soldiers, exploding near Sergeant Speer and fatally wounding him instantly. Running into a dusty alley from where the grenade appeared to have come, the soldiers came across a disheveled Omar, crouching on the blood-soaked ground away from the action, wounded by shrapnel from the airstrikes.
Omar Khadr, the only survivor of a militant rendezvous gone wrong, all because of a misused satellite telephone.
Yet, at least two Delta Force Soldiers did not hesitate before emptying their M4 carbines, lodging three bullets into the teenager’s back. He was immediately given on-site medical attention. Delirious from blood loss and racked by pain, he desperately begged the soldiers to kill him. Naturally, everyone present was surprised by his English. Although he was fixed up in the span of a week, recuperating well from his injuries, the happy ending that the teenager anticipated was not to become a reality.
He was transferred to Guantanamo Bay on October 30th, 2002, viewed an enemy combatant rather than a child soldier as the Red Cross had dictated. He was subjected to horrendous torture and interrogation methods, and ultimately charged with war crimes by a military commission. Omar was sentenced to eight years in prison. Two years later, he was returned to Canada to complete the remainder of his sentence and was finally released in May 2015.
But the story was not over for the former child soldier. Both Layne Morris and the widow of Christopher Speer were represented by an American attorney, who filed an application in Canada to redirect any money that Khadr might receive from the Canadian government, to the families of the soldiers who were affected by Khadr’s 15 years ago. Khadr’s own lawyers responded by filing a lawsuit for 20 million dollars against the Canadian government in June 2017. They claimed that the government ignored their own citizen while he faced inhumane horrors in Guantanamo Bay.
And the split has evolved to pit the Conservatives against the Liberals. Conservative parliamentary members stress that the money should be used to pay for the damage that Khadr caused two families during the war, and that he should be in prison to atone for what he has done. On July 4th 2017, a government source leaked that Khadr would be compensated 10.5 million Canadian dollars, confirmed three days later in a press conference by the Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Disgusting…As prime minister, I would have fought against this payout in court.
– Andrew Scheer, Conservative Leader
A formal apology was also issued by Wilson-Raybould on behalf of the government, and Khadr hoped the apology would resort his reputation and help him get on with his life. But the Conservatives are not as willing to let this case slide, angrily pointing out that Justin Trudeau had made Omar Khadr one of the wealthiest men in Canada. They heckled the Liberal government as bowing down to the exploits of a convicted terrorist. And most Canadians appear to share this opinion.
Omar Khadr was abandoned in a hellish place called Guantanamo Bay, for 10 years, a place internationally condemned as a torture chamber.
– Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s lawyer
Justin Trudeau, a devout Liberal, shot back at the press with a statement that the rights of every Canadian citizen, including Omar Khadr, were to be protected. Publicly defending both the apology and the settlement, the prime minister stated that the government severely violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by turning a blind eye to the suffering of Khadr during his time at Guantanamo Bay.
Is the base issue here really about whether Khadr deserves to be compensated?
As a 15-year old child soldier who threw a grenade in his brainwashed and panicked state as a child, it is flat-out absurd for Omar to be held accountable for his action, at least the same way as a legal adult would.
The horrors he faced in Guantanamo, the sleep deprivation, the restraining shackles placed on him, and the dreary years that crushed his spirit in that remote camp while the US government tortured him for information, are proof that he deserves compensation.
But in all honesty, maybe Trudeau should sit back and ponder, in all his intelligence and benevolence, what Omar’s compensation should actually be.
After all, 10.5 million dollars is a rather hefty sum of money!