Letter to Harper regarding Omar Khadr

Photo of Omar Khadr at age 14 (from wikipedia, public domain)Below is a letter that I have written to Mr. Harper to protest the Canadian government’s treatment of Omar Khadr, one of its citizens. If you are not familiar with the story, you can find some excellent background at The Globe and Mail.

credit where credit is due: I received assistance from the staff of this blawg, but because this letter does not necessarily reflect their views, I have respected their wishes and not added their names.

A Letter to the Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa  K1A 0A2

Dear Mr. Prime Minister Harper:

Re: Repatriation of Omar Khadr

I am writing to you to ask that you immediately issue a request to the relevant American authorities to have Omar Khadr repatriated to Canada.

Facts bearing on the problem:

  1. Omar Khadr holds Canadian citizenship;
  2. he was a minor at the time of his detention by American authorities;
  3. he has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002;
  4. during his six years in custody, Omar Khadr has been denied habeas corpus and the due process of law; and,
  5. he has been subjected to, at the very least, psychological abuse amounting to torture.

The right of any person to be presumed innocent until proved guilty is fundamental to our justice system and is a principle embodied in our constitution. Thus, Mr. Khadr is an innocent Canadian citizen being tortured at the hands of the American authorities.

In addition, a number of incidents have exacerbated the situation further.  Military interrogators have been caught destroying important evidence.  And alternative reports have indicated that Khadr was not alone at the time of his capture, undermining the assumption that he was directly responsible for any deaths.

Ultimately however, the question of Mr. Khadr’s guilt or innocence is not relevant to whether Canada should request his repatriation. This is a question of Canada’s prestige and credibility on the international stage.  Canada remains the only industrialized nation that has failed to intervene on behalf of its citizens.

There is no benefit to be gained from allowing Mr. Khadr to remain in American custody. There would be no diplomatic cost to requesting repatriation. The United States has explicitly indicated its willingness to hand over Mr. Khadr should Canada issue a request.

Conversely, the costs of failing to act are significant.

By failing to take action, when all that would be required to put an end to Mr. Khadr’s torture is a simple diplomatic request, Canada is being complicit in the gross violation of the basic human rights of one of its citizens.

In 1948, Canada became a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a source of great national pride that a Canadian, John P. Humphrey, was the principle drafter of the Declaration.  Because of our extensive history of contributions to the field, Canada has been recognized as a worldwide leader in human rights.

Our policy with respect to Omar Khadr is a tarnish on this international reputation. Our inaction is interpreted by the international community as a silent endorsement of the activities at Guantanamo, including controversial acts of torture. Domestically, the faith of Canadians in this country’s commitment to human rights and the protection of its own citizens is undermined. History will judge us harshly for failing to act.

I therefore ask that Canada request repatriation of Omar Khadr and that he be tried for his alleged crimes in this country.

As a Canadian citizen and a strong believer in human rights and dignity, I cannot ignore what is happening to Mr. Khadr. Respectfully, I feel that a vote for the Conservative party in the next election would represent my own sanctioning of the policy towards Mr. Khadr. I refuse to condone the inaction of this government. Today, I am ashamed of the country I so dearly love.

Yours very truly,

Lawrence A. Gridin,
Law Student

About the Author

Lawrence Gridin
Lawrence Gridin is currently a law student at the University of Western Ontario, graduating in the class of 2010. He completed his Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and History. Lawrence volunteers at Western's Community Legal Services and has participated in the clinic's outreach program. His diverse interests include social justice, 20th century history, photography, boxing, and politics.

20 Comments on "Letter to Harper regarding Omar Khadr"

  1. What was a Canadian citizen doing fighting in the Middle East? Khadr’s actions are keeping the government from acting, right or wrong.

    The lesson is if you are a Canadian citizen, don’t go and fight against Canadian (or US) soldiers in the Middle East.

  2. Terrific letter. I’m glad you are studying law, we need good lawyers.

  3. I think Kenny you are missing some of the facts. It was recently released that there was someone else there, alive- who could have thrown the device that killed the medic. The other interesting point is that the US Military has always said that he was shot as he was throwing something towards a soldier.. the problem is- well.. he was shot in the back- no weapons were found on him. Should he have been there- NO. Is he guilty? Who knows- the problem is that one of the things that Americans- and Canadians are giving their lives for ‘freedom and rights’ is that we are not allowing a 15 yr old child due process.
    If he is guilty- then he should be punished- BUT LET’S MAKE SURE HE IS ACTUALLY GUILTY.
    I find it interesting a multi-millionaire was recently sent to prison (Conrad Black) for destroying what might have been court documents, yet here we have military officials destroying court documents which could prove the guilt or innocence of a Canadian and all we say is “Opps”? Is ths right?

  4. The point of my letter is that it doesn’t matter if he’s guilty or innocent.

    If he’s guilty, I’m content to let him rot in a prison cell.

    I am not, however, content to have my beloved country complicit in the torture of a human being, no matter how serious his alleged crimes.

  5. PeterPaul | July 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm |

    Fantastic. You deserver a Nobel Prize.

    If the boy is guilty the Canadian law system is there to put him in the cell. He should fly to Canada first and the Canadian justice system to be applied to him.

    But we can not allow another nation holding and torturing a Canadian without trial for six years.

    Keep up your work, hope our PM has time to read your letter.

  6. Below is an excerpt from an article by James Travers appearing in today’s Toronto Star:

    Shaped by age, gender, geography and experience, opinion leaps across a spectrum that begins angrily with “serves him right” and ends compassionately in “bring the poor boy home.”

    In a country constantly struggling for cohesion, that many degrees of separation are rarely positive. The Khadr case, with its elliptical connections to the head-hurting conundrums testing the post-9/11 world, is an exception.

    Guantanamo Bay and the remaining captives held in its black legal hole are a metaphor for a discredited response to a riveting threat to America and its allies. Prison and prisoners are persistent reminders of a failed U.S. strategy that froze its own founding ideals in favour of its enemy’s no-rules tactics.

  7. Patrick Krall | July 27, 2008 at 8:16 am |

    Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

    I agree with you that Omar Khadr is a terrorist and a traitor to the country. I hope that he is punished to the fullest extent of the law. I agree that he should remain in US custody where he will get what he deserves. I think you should stand strong to make sure he stays in Guantanimo Bay where he belongs.

    Best Regards,


  8. As a law student I’m sure right now you believe there is a Justice system. But once you get into the real world you’ll soon find its a legal system and not a Justice system and is determined by which LAWYER can manipulate THE FACTS the best. The retoric we hear about Khader is a prime example of the manipulation going on. This person along with his family are traitors to this Country. Ship them all back towhere they came from.

  9. And further to my last comment. A prime example of the manipulation is the Video being released by Lawyers to manipulate public sentiment

  10. Patrick Krall:

    I think you’ve made a mistake in your comment. Where you say “I hope that he is punished to the fullest extent of the law,” I think what you meant to write was “I hope he is punished.”

    That’s because “the law,” if you take the words to mean fundamental western legal principles, doesn’t really apply in Guantanamo Bay. It’s a legal black hole.

    If he was being treated in accordance with the law, I would have no problem with him being punished to its fullest extent. What I’d like to see first is a finding of guilt by a legitimate court having competent jurisdiction.

    It’s unfortunate that you find the presumption of innocence to be such an offensive concept.

  11. Niki:

    As a law student I’m sure right now you believe there is a Justice system. But once you get into the real world you’ll soon find its a legal system and not a Justice system and is determined by which LAWYER can manipulate THE FACTS the best.

    Niki, are you a lawyer or a layperson? You have a pretty perverse view of the justice system, legal system, whatever you want to call it. Your attitude suggests that the legal system, being as broken as it is, serves no purpose in society.

    * * *

    “Ship them all back towhere they came from.” [sic]

    Omar Khadr came from Canada. So yes, I’d also like for him to be shipped back here.

    * * *

    As for your complaint that Khadr’s lawyers are trying to manipulate public opinion, you’re correct: they are.

    But it is perfectly legitimate to use the political process to effect change, especially when the Americans have made it impossible to use the legal process. Rallies, demonstrations, marches, media campaigns, petitions and letters are all legitimate ways of making one’s voice heard in a democratic society.

    Khadr’s lawyers have made no effort to hide their “manipulation,” by the way.

    From The New York Times:

    Nathan Whitling, one of Mr. Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, said he hoped the airing of the videos, which were featured Tuesday on Canadian television networks, would increase public pressure on the government. “The only way to get him released is through a political process,” he said. “So we are pleading in the court of public opinion.”

  12. Great letter Lawrence! I hope our PM does see your letter and responds to you.
    To Kenny you said: “What was a Canadian citizen doing fighting in the Middle East?” The question should be: Why did Americans cross oceans to get to the middle east? Could it be for the same amount of lies and motive’s that were behind the Iraq war? Also, I find it strange how if an American boy did this to a foreign soldier invading his country the child would be given the status of hero amongst the Westeners and not a terrorist.

  13. Alejandro J. | August 3, 2008 at 11:40 am |

    I agree with what Mike says!

    Lawrence, fantastic letter, it’s just too sad that manipulative (if not corruptive) governments allow for injustices to happen. And that it’s all done for personal objectives. How far do they want to go, when do they finally say, “ alright, we’ve sucked enough of these ppl’s blood”

  14. Maybe I am wrong, but since when, even if guilty do we put a ‘child soldier’ in jail?

    Even if he is guilty- he was 14? 15? a minor under the influence of his parent(s)

    They are the quilty ones.

    This child does not deserve to be treated the way he has been.

  15. The International Criminal Court

    The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by an international treaty called the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
    The Rome Statute was signed by Bill Clinton on behalf of the United States, though it was never ratified.

    In 2002, the The United States requested that it be removed from the list of signatories to the Rome Statute. The US indicated that it would no longer have any “legal obligations arising from its signature on December 31, 2000.”

    In that same year, John Bolton, the U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, explained the reasoning behind the “unsigning” of the treaty. In a speech to the Federalist Society, he stated:

    “For a number of reasons, the United States decided that the ICC had unacceptable consequences for our national sovereignty. Specifically, the ICC is an organization whose precepts go against fundamental American notions of sovereignty, checks and balances, and national independence. It is an agreement that is harmful to the national interests of the United States, and harmful to our presence abroad.”

    By removing its signature, the United States joined a list of countries like Sudan, Somalia, China, Russia, North Korea, and Cuba that are not parties to the treaty and refuse to recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. Virtually every developed country in the world is a party.

    Article 7(2)(e) of the Rome Statute defines torture as follows: “‘Torture’ means the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions [emphasis added].
    Sleep deprivation and the other “enhanced interrogation techniques” are certainly not inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

    Further, Article 8(2)(b)(xxi) defines

    “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”

    as a war crime. Detainees under U.S. custody in Guantanamo and elsewhere are routinely subjected to degrading treatment, including sexual humiliation which is aimed specifically at undermining Islamic/Arab cultural values.

    Furthermore, the principle of command responsibility, which was adopted at the Nuremberg Trials, is embodied in the Rome Statute, Article 25(3):

    In accordance with this Statute, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person:
    (b) Orders, solicits or induces the commission of such a crime which in fact occurs or is attempted; [emphasis added]

    and also in Article 28: Responsibility of commanders and other superiors.

    Child Soldiers

    In recognition of the special status of child soldiers, Article 26 of the Rome Statute states:

    The Court shall have no jurisdiction over any person who was under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged commission of a crime.

    Other international conventions, however, seem to set the age cutoff for child soldiers at age 15. Khadr was 15 at the time of the alleged “murder.”

    For more on Khadr as a child soldier, see this article by Human Rights Watch.

    See also this video where Senator Romeo Dallaire explains Khadr’s child soldier status:

  16. Put Kenny in jail. What a disgusting idiot.

  17. micheline jacques | January 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm |

    How typical of the ignorance of our members of parliament! Mr.Kenney looked like a fool with his”out of context” arguments. He demonstrates absolutely no understanding of this situation. Mr. Dallaire, on the other hand, who witnessed first hand the atrocities visited upon an ethnic group displayed the integrity and knowledge so lacking among our conservative parliamentarians. What will Mr. Harper do now that he can no longer be Bush”s lapdog???

  18. Delani Valin | January 13, 2009 at 4:33 am |

    Thank you for writing your letter. I too, want Mr. Khadr to be tried justly under Canadian law, only I could not express myself as eloquently as you have.



  19. Tony Petrovich | January 29, 2010 at 7:13 pm |

    I’m afraid that I have to agree with Mr. Krall, above. What makes O. Khadr a Canadian Citizen? Just that he was born here? How much time has he and his family actually lived in Canada? Where had the Khadr family been living in the years 1986 – 2002? And what have they been doing in this time? Please see today’s Globe and Mail for an article entitled Omar Khadr Timeline. I find it very interesting that this family has lived in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden/Al-Queda compounds for most of O. Khadr’s life. Omar Khadr has been building bombs and training to be an Al-Queda terrorist for most of his young life.
    He is in no way a Canadian, in my view.

    Let the Americans punish him for his crimes and congratulations to the Harper government for their Supreme Court victory this week.

  20. The cut-off for child soldier status is 14, not 15. The convention clearly states that to be a child soldier the child must be UNDER the age of 15.

    Next, Poor Li’l Omar was not a soldier. He was classified as an enemy combatant or a resistance fighter. Not uniformed, not under any flag, not under any recognized chain of command.

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