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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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.