By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard about Kony 2012, the campaign by Invisible Children aimed either at making Joseph Kony, a (former?) Ugandan War Lord, a social media pariah or at bringing Mr. Kony to justice. There’s been a lot of pushback against the error-riddled campaign, but there appears to be hope, even among the skeptical, that Invisible Children’s campaign will raise awareness in the U.S. and Canada (and worldwide) of the tragedy that is the use of child soldiers.
Of course, when we dig a little deeper, we know that the United States doesn’t care about the plight of child soldiers. We have learned this from the life of Omar Khadr.
Omar Khadr is a former child soldier. Now 25, he is serving an eight-year sentence at Guantanamo Bay. In October 2010, 8 years after first arriving at Gitmo, he pleaded guilty of murder. When he was 15, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier. He was captured and shipped to the notorious prison camp shortly after his 16th birthday, where he was allegedly tortured.
As shameful as the American government’s treatment of Omar Khadr has been, the Canadian government has been just as bad. Mr. Khadr is a Canadian citizen, forgotten, demonized and left to rot by his government.
The Khadr family is notorious. They have clear ties to terrorists – in fact, many of them, Mr. Khadr’s father included, are terrorists. Mr. Khadr, brought up in such a world, was quickly absorbed into that horrific and violent life. There is no doubt – none – that he was a terrorist. Though some claim he was not guilty of the actual crime for which he was convicted, he was not a random innocent swept up erroneously.
But he was an innocent. Western nations, civilized nations, claim to treat child soldiers differently than adult combatants. The child soldier is not a culpable villain, but yet another victim of warlords, terrorists and evil men. Omar Khadr, though a victim of his own family’s villainy, was just such a victim – is such a victim. But with the hangover of 9/11 haunting us – haunting Canada (a nation that was not attacked) – Mr. Khadr could not be treated with the care, sympathy and humanity that is demanded of us when helping child soldiers.
He was left. In a cell. He was whipped. He was tried in a sham. He was abandoned.
We, Canada, gave up on this young man. We gave up on a boy, an unsympathetic victim found to be an aggressor in a neighbour’s war. The United States punished a boy for the sins of his father and for the pain suffered that Tuesday in September.
It may be over for Mr. Khadr. Certainly, he may one day see freedom, but he has certainly been robbed of any sort of life. His parents initially robbed him of that life, but our governments were complicit in ensuring he’d never get it back. Hopefully, other child soldiers can still be saved, so it is wonderful news that people may finally be waking up to horror that is the child soldier. But this pop outrage will ring hollow as long as our nations refuse to admit that we, too, have so victimized a child.