The granting of parole to Omar Khadr and the Canadian government's attempts to stop it was big in the news a few weeks ago.
There's no disputing that Khadr was a juvenile at the time of the incident for which a military court tried him at Guantanamo Bay. There's no dispute about his having been on the al-Qaeda side of a firefight with US Special Forces. There's still uncertainty about whether or not it was he who threw the hand grenade that killed US officer Speer largely because the interrogations and the trial of Khadr included torture and the denial of basic rights like access to legal council for the first two years of incarceration and a three year delay in laying charges.
In other words, Khadr's “confession” would be thrown out in any legitimate court.
Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Stephen Harper on February 2, 2008 outlining the degree to which the trial of Khadr violated international—even US—conventions on the treatment of juvenile offenders. Click on the link above to read it for yourself.
For me, an open question has always been this: in a war situation where combatants are firing at each other, is it a crime under international law or the conventions of war to kill one of the enemy? If so, should the US soldier who shot and wounded Khadr also be brought to trial for committing a war crime?
Should Khadr have been released on parole? Of course, but the more relevant question is whether or not he should ever have been imprisoned, tried and convicted as he was in the first place. A 15-year old brainwashed by his father and al-Qaeda, fighting to save his life in a combat situation, surely falls under the conventions of child soldiers and juveniles generally:
“International law recognizes the special situation of children who have been recruited or used in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“Optional Protocol”), which Canada ratified in 2000 and the United States ratified in 2002, requires that all states parties provide for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers within their jurisdiction, including all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.” (HRW letter to Harper)
Canadian government appeals to quash the decision to parole Khadr were dismissed in short order by the courts. Nevertheless, these actions provided the government with a couple of really useful narratives for the election campaign: “We are the party that protects you from terrorism,” and “The courts in Canada are interfering in democracy; now they're making law instead of judging it!”
For Canadians who like simple, black on white narratives, such campaign scripts may be encouragement enough put an X beside the Conservative candidate's name on the ballot. For voters who understand that the rule of law exists for very good reasons, not so much.