Omar Khadr has been tremendously lucky, all things considered. In July 2002, he killed U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, a medic, with a hand grenade. The grenade also injured Sergeant Layne Morris, costing him an eye. Luckily for Khadr, however, another American medic saved Khadr’s life — all while working next to the corpse of his slain comrade.
Now, just 15 years later, Khadr, a Canadian citizen, will be awarded roughly $8 million ($10.5 million in Canadian dollars) and an apology from the Canadian government in a settlement negotiated with Khadr’s lawyers. The money is in compensation for Canada’s cooperation with his American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. Sergeant Layne and Sergeant Speer’s widow, Tabitha, have yet to receive a penny.
“Odious. Confessed terrorist who assembled & planted the same kind of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] that killed 97 Canadians to be given $10-million by Justin Trudeau,” Jason Kenney, a former Conservative-party minister, tweeted. Many in Canada feel the same way.
They are right to. This agreement is, on its face, unjust. Khadr was a terrorist, acting in violation of the laws of war. Then, in his apotheosis, surrounded and clearly defeated by American troops, Khadr still chose to lob that grenade. In fact, he pled guilty to doing so in 2010 before a U.S. military commission. You can even watch a video, made by Khadr and his terrorist buddies, of Khadr constructing the type of IEDs that killed so many Western troops.
But the story gets more complicated. Khadr was only 15 years old when he killed one U.S. soldier and blinded another. Born into an extremist family, Khadr is the son of a financier and associate of al-Qaeda. As a boy, Omar once stayed in Osama bin Laden’s house. He went on to be the youngest prisoner in Guantanamo. Khadr also claims that his confession at Guantanamo was coerced, and that he does not know if he threw the grenade.
In 2003, Canadian intelligence obtained evidence from Khadr in Guantanamo and shared it with U.S. officials. According to the supreme court of Canada, this evidence was obtained under “oppressive circumstances.” Canada’s (and, by extension, America’s) actions constituted a failure to uphold the “principles of fundamental justice,” according to the Canadian court.
It is likely that Khadr was mistreated at Guantanamo. It is also likely that the Canadian government failed in its obligation to protect the rights of its citizen, even if that citizen was fighting in Afghanistan against Canada and its allies. Perhaps this made some form of compensation for this failure inevitable. But that doesn’t make the situation right.
Omar Khadr has claimed that he will show Canada he is now a “good person.” If he is a man of his word, he will give his millions to the victims of his crimes. His “youthful indiscretions,” after all, were not like yours or mine; he likely killed a man and blinded another, taking up arms in adherence to a vicious ideology. No matter what Khadr went through, Sergeant Morris and Tabitha Speer are far more deserving of compensation. Now working toward a nursing degree in Edmonton, Alberta, Khadr will be just fine. Indeed, he is lucky (and indebted to American soldiers) just to be alive. But for his victims and their survivors, life cannot simply “go on.”
If Khadr will not do the right thing and give up the money, it should be taken from him. In 2015, an American judge granted Morris and Speer’s widow $134.2 million in damages for their losses. At the time, however, Khadr was penniless. No collection ever happened. Now that Khadr is flush with the Canadian government’s cash, collection should proceed apace. An application has already been filed to that end, but it will require the cooperation of Canadian courts.
If Khadr will not do the right thing and give up the money, it should be taken from him.
While Canada almost always recognizes American court decisions, the U.S. civil court’s reliance on the decision of a military commission may prove problematic. However, this should not delay or deny a just conclusion to the saga of Omar Khadr.
It is worth remembering that the American military commissions are not show trials. The detainees are accorded multiple levels of review. These often find that the detainees were not enemy combatants, upon which they are released. Moreover, the use of these commissions does not violate international law. As Howard Anglin, the former deputy chief of staff and senior legal adviser to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, testified to the Canadian parliament in 2008, “for unlawful belligerents such as Mr. Khadr, the Geneva conventions require only the minimum or indispensable protections of due process.” These requirements are fulfilled and exceeded by U.S. tribunals. To accord every unlawful belligerent the full protections of U.S. civilian courts, on the other hand, would be unprecedented and wholly impractical.
If Canada is truly compelled to compensate Omar Khadr, a terrorist, for failing to protect his rights, so be it. But let’s not make a mockery of justice: Tabitha Speer and Sergeant Layne are the real victims here. For them to get nothing while Khadr gets rich would be a slap in the face to America and its servicemen. Of course, Khadr will never be able to fully repay his debt — but why not let him give it a try with his newfound riches.