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 work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

Getty
Show Hide image

Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.