Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Brainwashed into pleading guilty: rights denied to one are denied to all.
This has been all over the news, but it's enough of an outrage (and gross violation of human rights) that it seemed the perfect opening salvo for this born-again cynic.
Omar Khadr was arrested in 2002 as a fighter for al-Qaeda after killing an American soldier with a hand grenade at the age of 15. He has spent the majority of the last eight years imprisoned at Guantanamo bay--over a third of his life--and, having plead guilty, is facing at least another eight years behind bars.
As a fighter for a "terrorist" organization, the United States government does not consider Khadr to be a prisoner of war. According to international law, prisoners of war are entitled to combatant immunity and may not be prosecuted by their captors for legitimate acts of war (e.g. killing an enemy soldier in combat). It is only Khadr's extra-legal status that allows the United States government to prosecute him.
The question of Khadr's status hinges on whether captured al-Qaeda fighters are to be considered (in the eyes of international law) "lawful" or "unlawful" combatants. On the one hand, terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, are large multi-national, non-sovereign, criminal (therefore, unlawful) organizations; on the other hand, the organizational structure and tactics of certain pockets within these organizations mirrors that of "lawful" guerrilla movements--entitling captured fighters to POW status per article 4 of the third Geneva Convention.
Obviously, the senior leadership of al-Qaeda is responsible for atrocities that lie far outside the legal definition of "acts of war". Indeed, in addition to international terrorism, there is evidence that al-Qaeda is engaged in international drug smuggling, money laundering, and weapons dealing. However, the persons involved in these activities are in violation of international law and, as such, may legally be prosecuted (for these activities) upon capture regardless of POW status.
Additionally, it is highly unlikely that the average al-Qaeda fighter on the ground in Afghanistan is even aware of, or (if they are aware) even peripherally involved in, the global crime syndicate they claim to represent. In the most reductive sense, these fighters represent a militant organization that, at least in Afghanistan, finds itself in direct conflict with the military of a sovereign nation--a military opposing them under the auspices of war. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to consider fighters captured in such conflict prisoners of war entitled to all the rights guaranteed by that status.
As for Omar Khadr, it is unlikely that a fifteen year old boy would be fully cognizant of the potential ramifications of joining al-Qaeda. Furthermore, given his age and stated family history, it is likely that he was coerced into joining al-Qaeda and was not affiliated with that organization entirely of his own free will. When he was captured, he had been wounded in a gunfight between US forces and other al-Qaeda militants; when Khadr threw the grenade that killed a US soldier he was under fire--thus, killing the soldier was not an act of cold-blooded murder, but an act of self-defense against an armed attacker; an armed attacker acting as a combatant in the execution of a declared war.
Considering the length of Khadr's captivity, and the conditions of his captivity, his guilty plea is nothing more than a surrender. He is a victim of circumstance who poses no real threat to the people of the United States yet the people of the United States have ruined his life. Regardless of his statements in court, he was branded with the identity of a terrorist during his most impressionable years--any ideological statements he makes now are not the product of al-Qaeda, but the product of the ordeal he has been through in the past eight years. This man's life now amounts to nothing more than that of a political pawn who's rights were disregarded in the name of "freedom".