The Canadian citizen was barely fifteen years old (a minor) when he was arrested in Afghanistan for fighting with the Taliban and allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a young US soldier. When he was taken into US custody, Khadr looked like this [warning: graphic image of battle injuries]. For the past six plus years, Khadr has been held at Guantanamo Bay, where he will turn twenty two on September 19th, 2008.

Despite appeals by UNICEF, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Bar Association, among others, the US has so far refused to hand Khadr over to Canadian authorities. And, to its shame, the Canadian Government has not pressed the US on the issue.

The US is currently prosecuting Khadr for war crimes in a Guantanamo-based military tribunal. Khadr is the only person on trial anywhere for war crimes allegedly committed while under the age of eighteen. Human rights organizations frequently refer to Khadr as a former child soldier, which I think is the only description that makes sense for someone was a child when he was arrested on a foreign battlefield.

Even if Khadr is guilty, he was just a kid at the time he committed his crimes, and he was fighting for what was then a Government-sponsored armed group. He shouldn’t have been treated differently than any other child soldier in any other armed conflict. No sane person would ever advocate that brainwashed Burmese child soldiers made to gun down innocent civilians in Karen State, or Ugandan teenagers made to commit all kinds of atrocities by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army should face years of jail time and criminal prosecution, nevermind closed military trials!

Acknowledging that the Taliban regime was the government of Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion in 2001 isn’t downplaying how bad the Taliban were (and still are.) In fact, that the crimes committed against innocent Afghans during the Taliban era were sanctioned and carried out by the state, and not by some rogue militia, actually makes them worse in the eyes of the law. Khadr may well have done some terrible things, but he was a child soldier –one of many– under the command and influence of powerful superiors.

The tape released today of Khadr being interrogated at Guantanamo by a Canadian intelligence agent  in 2003 isn’t gruesome –Khadr isn’t beaten or even yelled at (on the tape anyway)– but it is sad. A hysterical sixteen year old Khadr sobs uncontrollably. He tells the interrogator in a very, very sixteen year old way, "you don’t care about me!" and makes nonsensical statements that indicate that he was really out of it during the interrogation. He  pleads for help, he asks to be sent back to Canada. He takes off his shirt to show the interrogator the wounds he sustained in Afghanistan, which he says aren’t healing properly, and he cries and cries.

What does the Bush Administration think it is accomplishing –other than making itself look cruel– by continuing to hold Khadr?

UPDATE: Amnesty International points out something I missed, embarrassingly, in the Khadr video: Khadr does not have legal representation at any time during the interrogation. Amnesty is calling for him to be immediately repatriated to Canada. I honestly don’t see that happening until a new administration is in office, and even then, only if it’s a Democratic Administration. John McCain would no doubt happily allow Khadr to spend the rest of his life in prison, or have him executed following his closed trial. The death penalty is not being sought in Khadr’s case. Small mercies, right?

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