The Canadian government has acted scandalously in the case of 18-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian teenager imprisoned for the past three years by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In repeated interrogations, Canadian security agents have sought to benefit from the legal black hole at Guantanamo. The Federal Court of Canada was right this week when it ordered a temporary stop to these interrogations, pending a fuller hearing of Mr. Khadr's Charter rights as a Canadian.
Mr. Khadr faces serious allegations: that he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in battle; that he worked as a translator for al-Qaeda to help co-ordinate the placing of land mines; that he planted 10 mines against U.S. forces; and that he conducted surveillance on U.S. convoy movements.
But as a prisoner at Guantanamo, he has no impartial tribunal before which he can either clear his name or be given a defined punishment. He has no one before whom he can argue that, as a juvenile, he bore a diminished responsibility for his actions.
Fighting terrorism does not justify discarding the rule of law. Mr. Khadr has been held at Guantanamo since he was 15. After three years, how much more time do interrogators need with this inmate, Mr. Justice Konrad von Finckenstein asked. There is evidence that Mr. Khadr is in poor mental and physical shape. Canadian intelligence agents and foreign-affairs officials who have been interrogating him pass along what they've learned to the RCMP and to U.S. authorities. Do the Canadian interrogators advise the 18-year-old of his rights to counsel or to silence? They would not tell the Federal Court. Do they set out any limits for the Americans on how they may use the information? Again, they would not say, leaving the impression that at Guantanamo, anything goes.
Canada, unlike Britain and Australia, has made little attempt to secure the release or speak for the due-process rights of its lone citizen at Guantanamo. Absurdly, even as Canadian agents are assisting his U.S. captors, Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew has been seeking assurances that the United States will not execute Mr. Khadr, assurances that the U.S. has refused to provide. The execution of juveniles is barred in the United States, but clearly Canada would not be asking for assurances if it did not think such an execution was possible. Canadian agents may be helping to bring about a punishment that their government is trying to stave off.
The Khadr family, by its own actions -- including a father who was a senior al-Qaeda figure and a mother who boasted of her sons' terrorist exploits -- has become notorious in Canada. There is not and may never be a groundswell of opinion that Omar Khadr's rights need protection. But they do. The Canadian government's eagerness to exploit Guantanamo in the case of a Canadian teenager incarcerated since he was 15 is shameful.