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Omar Khadr should be given due process

Canada has been virtually silent on Omar Khadr, an 18-year-old citizen of this country imprisoned for the past 2½ years at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The silence has spoken volumes. It has sent the message that Canadians, no matter how much they profess to oppose the United States' prison camp at Guantanamo, wash their hands of him. They are quite happy to have him out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Omar Khadr is the name (and the young man) this country would rather not think about.

Canada should withdraw this implied consent and speak up for Mr. Khadr's right to an impartial hearing. The United States alleges that he trained with an al-Qaeda camp, planted mines against U.S. forces and killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan. There is no prospect of a hearing on those serious allegations.

Would it be hypocritical to raise Mr. Khadr's case with the Americans when Canada jails foreign terrorist suspects for years without criminal charges? Absolutely not. There are enormous differences between Guantanamo and this country's national security certificates. Here are three: The foreign suspects in Canada receive hearings from an independent judge; they are represented by counsel; and they can leave jail if they agree to leave the country.

In other words, they have due process. Mr. Khadr has no process. He is not a prisoner of war and he has not been formally accused of a crime, either of which designations would entitle him to the protection of the law. He is merely someone to be interrogated, in an exceedingly rough place, without the right to remain silent or to make his case or even to receive a defined punishment. He is beyond the reach of law.

Two and a half years in "indefinite pre-trial detention," as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy describes Guantanamo, is far, far too long. Raised by a terrorist father -- Ahmed Said Khadr was a senior member of al-Qaeda -- the son deserves a chance to argue that he bears less responsibility for what he did at 15 than an adult accused of similar offences.

There are no checks on his detention. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that all Guantanamo detainees have a right to a hearing. In response, the U.S. set up military tribunals, but Mr. Khadr understandably refused to appear when he was not permitted independent counsel. A U.S. judge ruled late last month that the tribunals did not meet the Supreme Court's demands, and were unconstitutional.

Mr. Khadr's physical security and mental health are in question. In affidavits made public this month by lawyers retained by his family, he complains of rough treatment by interrogators verging on torture. The young man says he has experienced a life-threatening event, felt intense fear, cried often and had thoughts of suicide. The U.S. has assured Canada that he is being treated humanely, but no Canadian consular officials have been allowed to visit him. (This country's intelligence officials, on the other hand, have been to see him several times, according to the affidavit.) No independent doctor has seen him. It is impossible to verify what is in the affidavit.

Australia and Britain both pressed hard for the release of their nationals from Guantanamo. Recently, having won the release, those countries had to face the problem of having alleged terrorists wandering loose. Britain arrested the former Guantanamo detainees when they arrived, questioned them and let them go the next day. Australia has promised Washington that it will monitor a detainee who returned home this month.

Canadians may not want Mr. Khadr turning up on their doorstep. The Khadr family has reaped what it has sown. But that does not mean a teenager should be dispatched to a black hole. Canada should insist that Mr. Khadr be given a chance to face an impartial legal proceeding, and thus to make a break from, or pay a just penalty for, his past.

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