The tragedy of Omar Khadr


Not a child soldier nor a victim.

Author: Nicholas Giokas – contributor

The most frustrating thing about the public debate surrounding Omar Khadr is that the events leading up to his detention and the events following have polarized any discussion to the extent that it has become a complete and unmitigated mess. On one side are those that bring up the valid concerns of Mr. Khadr aiding and being a part of Al-Qaeda affiliated forces in Afghanistan. On the other side are those that bring up the valid concerns surrounding the practices of American forces following his detention, namely the allegations of torture. Though the validity of whether Mr. Khadr killed any US troops may forever be lost to the fog of war, discussions must be taken as to how the case of Mr. Khadr will influence how the West should treat the realities of war in the modern context.

The one word that is by far under the most contentious debate is the moniker of “child soldier.” Yes, Mr. Khadr was young. However, he was older than what the UN defines in its various charters on what constitutes a “child soldier.” If Mr. Khadr had ever volunteered for combat duties he was, in all legal aspects, a full-fledged combatant. According to the United Nations, a child soldier is someone under the age of 15 or an individual who was pressed into service before the age of 18. By all accounts, it appears as though Mr. Khadr had volunteered to accompany the Al-Qaeda operatives when he was captured, with videos and pictures showing him building bombs and carrying an AKM, meaning that in all legal terms he should not be considered a “child soldier”.

So, if Mr. Khadr had volunteered to join the Al-Qaeda , which would legally deem him as a full-fledged abrasive combatant, then the question is how uniformed troops were supposed to treat him. The media has largely stuck to a narrative painting Mr. Khadr as a young, naive, innocent boy who was forced into the firefight that led to his capture. This is, simply put, complete and utter bullshit. The further vilification of the US troops involved in the firefight, depicting Khadr as a boy simply fighting against those wishing him harm, has been equally disgusting. The Al-Qaeda insurgents are widely documented to have opened fire first – but to those that push the “defence” narrative I say, if you don’t want to get shot, don’t join an armed insurgency. To argue that US troops were somehow wrong in opening fire on Khadr and his fellow insurgents is quite possibly one of the stupidest things you can put into words.

However, something equally stupid is how many have argued that Khadr deserved to be detained. It is the general rule of practice for those under the age of 18 captured in combat to be rehabilitated when possible. The story of Omar Khadr should have taken a very different route, one where NATO forces attempted to “de-radicalize” Mr. Khadr. Yes, the fact remains that the Khadr family had close enough ties to Bin Laden that Mr. Khadr could have held information vital to NATO operations in Afghanistan and the wider War on Terror, but torture was not the way to do it. Enough reports and studies have proven that torture yields very few, if any, actual results. So, to go beyond the general international rules surrounding underage soldiers captured in combat was not only reprehensible, but also unnecessary.

So, to those that would make Mr. Khadr a hero or martyr in ending the practices of the US in the War on Terror, I ask that you stop lowering everyone’s collective IQs. He was an Al-Qaeda combatant, an enemy of the state, and he should face the music for aiding international terrorism. To those that think detaining Mr. Khadr or refusing him citizenship should be the music he faces, you’re lowering the IQs of everyone as well. The music he should face is continued monitoring (more than likely already being done) to guarantee that Mr. Khadr no longer espouses the ideology carried by Al-Qaeda. The true tragedy in this story is that we could have taken a young man out of the cycle of terror and violence when he was captured and failed to do so.

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