L’affaire Omar Khadr: Macleans Magazine on “The shady business of paying Omar Khadr”

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July 7, 2017

Terry Glavin
Macleans Magazine

Well. That was quick.

Only five days into a national bedlam of opprobrium and sanctimony that began with rumours that Ottawa intended to say sorry and shell out $10.5 million to make amends for ignoring the constitutional rights of the famous Gitmo boy-terrorist Omar Khadr, and all of a sudden, the deal is already done, the cheque’s already been cut, and Khadr’s already cashed it.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale expended a great deal of effort on Friday to the purpose of appearing righteous and proper, and went so far as to lay blame on the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper: “The Harper government could have repatriated Mr. Khadr or otherwise resolved the matter,” Goodale said. “They didn’t.”

 That is going to leave a mark. But not on the Conservatives.

The misdeeds Goodale was insisting we should all atone for—the specific trespasses upon Khadr’s constitutional rights that Goodale cited to justify the government’s sudden sorry-saying and cash payout—were committed in 2002 and 2003, before Harper’s government was in power. At the time, Goodale himself was a member of Paul Martin’s Liberal cabinet.

If the intention of the deal was as Goodale said—to cut Canada’s losses in the $20 million civil litigation Khadr’s lawyers initiated in 2004, and help Khadr escape his notoriety and get on with his life at last, which he does deserve—this is not how it’s done.

In his lawsuit, Khadr contended that Canada conspired with the American military 14 years ago by allowing Canadian intelligence officials to elicit statements from him about the terrorism charges he was facing at Guantanamo Bay, without allowing him any access to a lawyer. Canada effectively collaborated with U.S. military authorities in Khadr’s brutal mistreatment. In sum, he was abused in a way that “offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects,” as the Supreme Court of Canada described it, in a 2010 decision.

A loss-cutting settlement might make eminent sense, but the whirlwind was allowed to clatter along all week without so much as a proper media briefing, an official statement, a formal explanation or even a single honest and candid answer—not even when the question was put directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a press conference in Ireland. Absurdly, neither the payout amount nor the wording of the apology were mentioned Friday, owing to the deal’s confidentiality provisos.

Donald Trump’s White House had been “pre-informed” about the settlement, but all week Canadians have been obliged to rely on assumptions, unnamed sources and conjecture, drawing from all the usual reservoirs of prejudice and partisan bias in speculation about the political considerations that went into the deal and the political embarrassments it was intended to avoid.

After 13 years, suddenly a deal is cut, only three weeks after a faint-hope U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act injunction application to block any payout to Khadr was filed in Ontario Superior Court on behalf of Tabitha Speer, the widow of Delta Force Sergeant Christopher Speer, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2002 by a hand grenade that Khadr may or may not have thrown.

Khadr was only 15 when he was taken into custody after being horribly wounded in a Taliban firefight with U.S. Special Forces. He pleaded guilty to the charge of murdering Speer, then later claimed he’d copped a plea only to get transferred to a Canadian prison, and has since claimed he does not trust his own memory of throwing the grenade. Now 30, Khadr was released on bail two years ago, pending his appeal of his several dubious military-court convictions in Guantanamo, and lives in Edmonton.

Tabitha Speer and Layne Morris, a since-retired U.S. Special Forces officer wounded in the 2002 firefight when Khadr was captured, were seeking to block any federal payout to Khadr. They were relying on the strength of a 2006 Utah District Court default award of $134 million for Sergeant’s Speer’s wrongful death and Morris’ loss of the sight in his right eye.

On Friday, lawyers acting for Speer and Morris were in Ontario Superior Court seeking a date for an “urgent” hearing. The whole effort looks moot now, but lawyer David Winer told reporters he may seek an interim preservation order, which would have the effect of freezing Khadr’s assets.

The strange rush to settle has left the Trudeau government facing the prospect of having to explain why Omar Khadr deserves justice, but the widow of an American soldier who died in a battle when Omar Khadr was a fighter on the other side, does not.

It is also worse than awkward that we’ve all been left to surmise that the Khadr deal takes its precedent from the 2007 settlement in the quite dissimilar case of Maher Arar.

Arar was awarded $10 million and a fulsome apology in 2007 after a judicial inquiry determined that misleading information from the RCMP may have played a part in a decision by American authorities to trundle Arar off to Bashar al-Assad’s torture dungeons in Syria. The inquiry concluded that Arar was in no way linked to terrorism.

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the Arar affair as “a tremendous injustice.” The apology to Arar came by way of a both an official government statement and a unanimous House of Commons resolution.

In contrast, Omar Khadr was raised in an infamous Egyptian-Palestinian “al Qaeda family” whose many members spent years in Osama bin Laden’s inner circle in Taliban-held regions of Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s jihadist badlands. Omar’s teenage skill set included proficiency in the assembly of sophisticated improvised explosive devices.

RELATED: Widow of U.S. soldier goes after Khadr payout

An all-party apology would seem unlikely in Khadr’s case, especially in the way developments have unfolded this week. Opposition leader Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are not in a very forgiving or apologetic mood. Not every MP in the Liberal caucus is happy about the way this has come together, either.

This is not the sort of thing that just blows over and fades away.

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