In a sharply worded 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court declared last week that the federal government's ongoing treatment of Omar Khadr violates the principles of fundamental justice and his right to liberty and security. In one scathing passage, the judges condemned Canadian officials for repeatedly interrogating the Canadian teenager at the Guantanamo Bay torture camp and then sharing the results with American authorities who are planning to prosecute Khadr for allegedly killing an American soldier in Afghanistan.
In one case, a Canadian official grilled Khadr after he had been subjected to three weeks of the "frequent flyer program." Khadr, who was 17 at the time, had been moved from cell to cell every two to three hours to keep him from sleeping.
"The interrogation of a youth," the justices wrote, "detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects."
In spite of its blistering words, the Supreme Court explicitly refused to order the government to seek Khadr's speedy return from Guantanamo, where he has been held for more than seven years. In the clearest possible case of putting the cat in charge of the canary, the justices decided instead to leave the protection of Khadr's rights to the tender mercies of the Harper government, at least for now. The ruling underlined once again how our courts tend to uphold the prerogatives of power instead of dispensing justice.
Khadr, of course, has been the victim of one blatant injustice after another since he was captured in 2002 by US forces in Afghanistan when he was only 15. In a CBC interview last week, one of Khadr's lawyers said sleep deprivation was only a minor footnote compared to the other abuses he suffered. Nathan Whitling added that when Khadr was captured, he had shrapnel wounds in his eyes and two gaping bullet holes in his chest.
"He just came out of surgery," Whitling said, "and they would interrogate him on his stretcher and sometimes they would just pull him off the stretcher and let him hit the floor with those wounds and pick him up and pull him off again and let him hit the floor while they screamed questions at him."
Whitling said Khadr was forced to carry heavy boxes from one side of the room to the other. "They had a practice of handcuffing prisoners, hands above their heads in these sort of short chicken-wire cages in order to ensure that they could not sleep," Whitling added. "So Omar was hung by the ceiling for hours and days at a time. It was especially bad for him, of course, because of these bullet wounds."
Now, the Americans are planning to prosecute Khadr in front of a military commission in spite of secret military photos uncovered by the Toronto Star showing him severely wounded and lying face down under rubble at the time he supposedly threw the grenade that fatally wounded a US medic. His lawyer says the US case is based on statements extracted from Khadr "under coercion if not cruel and unusual punishment and if not torture." Nathan Whitling adds that such statements would never be accepted as evidence in a real civilian or military court, but are admissible in the military commission system set up under the Bush administration.
Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court's refusal to order the government to seek Khadr's immediate repatriation, is only another in the string of injustices he has endured. Maybe the nine Supremes should ponder the standards of justice enunciated by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel:
"The Lord said: 'I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them with justice.'"
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