Omar Khadr: A Hero of Canadian Values?

“Development of violence among the colonized people will be proportionate to the violence exercised by the threatened colonial regime”
Frantz Fannon

A lot of ink has and is being spilled on upholding the legal rights of Omar Khadr in the face of the American extra-legal war on terror. Khadr has to come home to save and serve our Canadian values the argument goes. In essence, this discourse seems to be not about Omar Khadr, but about Canadian values. It is the country’s conscience that is hurting, not the body of the accused. It is the Canadian government’s authority and international reputation that is being violated, not the humanity of the accused. It is our sensibilities for due process and fair trial that are under attack, not the sanity and dignity of the accused. For supporters and opponents alike, bringing Khadr back or keeping him at Guantanamo is about one thing: saving our values, not his life.

We talk about what these values are, but we leave out the values of those we constantly claim to empathize with, values ascribed today to the realm of radical or imagined politics but that are in fact enshrined in international law[1], which we uphold in the highest regard: the right of all peoples to fight for self-determination against colonial domination and alien occupation and to carve out their own path to economic, social and cultural development; the moral duty of all nations to eradicate the evil of colonization and alien subjugation.
If we really support those universal values, then we need to possess the moral courage to accept the cost in practical terms- a cost that Canada was more than willing to pay when its own or its allies’ rights were threatened.

A right to self defense means in practical terms a right to carry arms and a right to counter violence with violence. For the same violence inflicted by occupying powers (invited by colonially-instituted puppet regimes or not) will be claimed by the occupied. From the legitimacy of the law of war that endows people to put trust in their armed forces and the necessity at times of armed conflicts, Canadians should understand if not accept the violence inflicted against their or their allied troops at war. Canadian troops do what they are told, we are constantly reminded. “Enemy” troops are no different.

Omar Khadr, 15 years old or 45, was doing what he was told and possibly what he believed to be defending an occupied land. And yet, he is denied Prisoner of War status, something even Nazi foot soldiers were not. He is charged with murder; a crime constantly committed by American and Canadian troops in Afghanistan[2]. Under The Hague Regulations and Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, Khadr is entitled to POW status for a reason, he is classified as a soldier or belligerent. But we do not want to think of Khadr as a soldier (let alone a child), and all the universal values attached to that label regardless of the side one is fighting against. The same way we would rather stick to a debate about some values and not others, and ultimately in isolation of the person in question or his alleged actions. This is how drastic the debate has shifted in Canada away from what this war is all about and into the abstract sanitized space of moral values and legal rights. And that should not come as a surprise; given that the debate is not about Khadr, but rather about our ….values.

[1] United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 1514 adopted in 1960, which all countries are obliged to respect.
[2] Human Rights estimates dozens of children killed by ISAF since the invasion of Afghanistan.

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