The Omar Khadr case makes a mockery of US justice

After eight years in Guantanamo, the last western “enemy combatant” faces a deeply flawed trial.

Omar Khadr was a badly wounded boy of 15 when, in 2002, US forces captured him in Afghanistan. As the dust settled on a suspected al-Qaeda compound after a firefight that July, troops discovered him slumped in the rubble among the dead, leaning against a wall.

One soldier -- identified only as "OC1" in a military document that was mistakenly released six years later -- testified that there were two survivors among the insurgents. He claimed he killed the first, then shot Khadr (who was facing away from him) twice in the back, leaving two large exit wounds across his upper body. In a legal motion, another officer present at the scene wrote: "(He's) missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating."

The Pentagon alleges that Khadr was responsible for the death of the US special forces medic Christopher Speer, who sustained fatal injuries that day from a grenade hurled from the compound.

Khadr -- a Canadian citizen -- is the last prisoner from a western country among the 176 "enemy combatants" still held at Guantanamo Bay. Eight months after Barack Obama's campaign deadline to close the facility, the future of its detainees continues to be determined outside the protection of international law. Khadr's long-delayed trial, which began today, is the first official terror case to be heard before the military courts under the Obama administration; it is also the first war crimes trial since Nuremberg for offences allegedly committed by a minor.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN special envoy for children in armed conflict, said today that the proceedings were of dubious legality and has released a statement urging the US to abandon them. She said:

The statute of the International Criminal Court makes it clear that no one under 18 will be tried for war crimes, and prosecutors in other international tribunals have used their discretion not to prosecute children . . . Even if Omar Khadr were to be tried in a national jurisdiction, juvenile justice standards are clear -- children should not be tried before military tribunals.

Since his capture, Khadr has been housed with adult detainees and denied access to education. His defence team has long complained that the statements on which the case against him are based were obtained illegally through torture, his interrogators even threatening him with gang rape and death. Yesterday, however, the US military judge ruled in favour of allowing such dubiously extracted "confessions" as evidence.

In his January State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke of how Americans at both ends of the political spectrum aspired "to give their children a better life". The very fact that the Khadr case is roaring ahead -- with scarcely a word of concern from the president or the mainstream US media -- shows how hollow that flourish of oratory was.

Yo Zushi is a contributing writer for the New Statesman. His latest album, It Never Entered My Mind, is out now on Eidola Records and is on Spotify here.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA