Kony 2012, Gitmo and Omar Khadr

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.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. P.S. ‘Tis only fair of me to note that it was my wife that noted the hypocrisy of worrying about the child soldier abroad, and caring not a whit about Omar Khadr. But, since she doesn’t have posting privileges, I’m stealing her topic.

  2. “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.”

    As Mr. McLeod points out, Omar Khadr was victimized by his own family. The same cannot be said of the children who Kony victimized by abducting them *from* their families and turning them into soldiers. Isn’t that the key difference here?

    While the Khadr case is indeed tragic for a host of reasons, I’m having trouble with what seems to me a rather hyperbolic leap of logic.

    • No, this is completely ludicrous. Child abuse isn’t ok just because it’s a parent smacking the kid around. A child soldier is a child soldier. The whole point of the issue is a child has no choice in the matter and is forced into it. If it’s a parent forcing a child into such a life, the kid is still a victim.

      I’m sorry you’re having trouble with this, but Khadr was turned into a child soldier. Both Canada and the U.S. didn’t care. Some slick ad campaign by a shady charity about Joseph Kony doesn’t change that. He was a victim, too.

      • Good lord, I never suggested that child abuse is “ok” provided it’s perpetrated by the parent. I was simply drawing a key distinction in the context of your comment that I highlighted.

        So really, aside from making sweeping judgments about 1) what Americans care/don’t care about and 2) my own personal views on what constitutes child abuse, the crux of your message seems to be, “Since we screwed up with Khadr, any other efforts to address mass child abduction and child soldiering must be A) necessarily diminished by any wrongs done Khadr and/or B) disingenuous.

        • If you didn’t think Khadr’s family was a mitigating point, you shouldn’t have brought it up.

          But, to get to what I think is your point, yes, if one claims to care about the children abducted and tortured by Kony, but doesn’t give a fish about the child soldier that one’s own country imprisoned and tortured (and continues to imprison) one is, at best, disengenuous.

    • But to what end? Why does the fact that Khadr was exploited by family members rather than strangers or neighbours factor in determining that he was, in fact, an exploited child?

  3. the us wouldn’t show care for child soldiers!!but not just them ,everyone one else.if they did they would care for bradley manning who is their brother,citizen and family.if it was my african ass I will probably be left with no care at all.(atleast omar is white)

  4. Why should Americans care about this kid since he killed one of our soldiers? He is lucky they saved him after the battle. If he were a civilian and murdered someone he would be charged as an adult so I fail to see what is so bad with his current situation.

    • Thank you, Scott, for demonstrating the point so precisely. The past few days have witnessed a tidal wave of North Americans weeping into their keyboards over the child soldiers victimized and exploited by Joseph Kony. Had Kony pitted his child militants against American troops rather than their fellow countrymen I imagine they would receive a similar amount of sympathy as that bestowed on Omar Khadr.

      • darlene:

        Yes, but so what? Why shouldn’t Americans care more about our own troops? The reality is, is that one is in our national security interest and the other is not. I suppose Canada could step up but I doubt that will happen.

        • So child soldiers are only deserving of concern so long as they don’t attack American citizens? Perhaps the value of an American life is greater than that of a Eastern African life, since it’s already been established that child soldiers in the LRA have been killing East Africans for decades.

          You’re perfectly comfortable with the double standard?

          • Not to mention he didn’t attack first. The american’s attacked them and he was the sole survivor fighting to try and stay alive. Plus he didn’t have a say in the matter to compound it.

        • The problem is, these sadistic little warlords are operating in ways which make Americans ever less secure and contrary to our national interests.

          The Chinese are coming into Africa in a big way. They don’t care who’s in charge. They’re backing all sorts of nightmarish little maniacs in ways not even the Bad Ol’ Colonialists ever did. They’re extracting all sorts of natural resources and leaving huge messes behind. Their workers are also getting kidnapped and their ships boarded by pirates.

          This, Scott, is a problem of national security. Africa is bedeviled with all sorts of terrorist elements who hide in the wreckage of these half-dead countries. Did it escape your memory that Osama bin Laden did a good deal of his work in Khartoum in Sudan? His guys came out of the weeds to blow up American embassies. I was in Nairobi when that embassy was bombed. Or that OBL went to Afghanistan, a country which by then was mostly-dead? Or that Pakistan’s western territories have become the new sanctuary for terrorism?

          America’s enemies do use child soldiers. The madrasa Islamic schools are cranking them out by the tens of thousands. I had the recent temerity to say we should be doing the same with the orphans of war, some while back, only to have various and sundry hereabouts retire to the fainting couches. Wars produce orphans. Better we get them than our enemies.

          If we cared about our troops, and we manifestly do not, we would give a damn about the children of those war zones. He will either grow up to be our friend or our enemy based on how our troops behave. Kids are digging IED pits, acting as scouts for our enemies, carrying weapons: our enemies have no compunction about the use of children and neither do we, sending teenagers off to fight the wars of old men.

          • And yet, almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were rather educated bourgeoisie, at least at the time of the attack.

      • The US has not normally prosecuted people solely for fighting its military in foreign countries. Khadr’s case is one of a kind and resulted from a unique situation in the early years after 9/11. Tens of thousands of soldiers have since been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and you don’t see the US or any other western country prosecuting insurgents in those cases, not solely for fighting in the war. The case became a political nightmare, with people on one side outraged by the legal and human rights abuses it represented, and people on the other side demanding revenge for the death of a soldier. The plea bargain, a guilty plea and giving up appeal rights in return for a reduced sentence, was the only way out for all concerned. Unfortunately, it would have been far easier to ensure that Khadr was released without risk to the public when he was 15 than it will be after years in Gtmo, but presumably US officials think it can be done or they wouldn’t have offered the plea bargain and proposed the transfer. He’s no less a risk to them sitting on our side of the border than theirs, and they don’t release detainees they consider a risk. We can only hope the Canadian government has some sane plan for handling the situation when he comes here, to best ensure he can live a normal life and the public is protected, which would mean a program of rehabilitation and early release subject initially to strict security measures. Let’s hope they aren’t just thinking about how long they can put off taking him and how much they can punish him, for short term political gain, before they have to release him.

        • I’m waiting for the day when folks call on Canada and not the US to handle a world crisis, humanitarian or natural disaster, or clean up a third world cesspool.

          What is really sad is the way you attempt to conflate the situation of those kidnapped and forced to fight with someone like Kahdr who was raised as a Islamic terrorist by his own parents.

    • Scott-
      Omar Khadr threw a grenade at soldiers who had invaded his town.
      By your logic the child soldiers in the movie Red Dawn were terrorists and criminals.

      • Liberty60:

        At least try and get your facts correct. Last time I checked, Khadr wasn’t from Afghanistan. The town he was in was not his town by any means as he was there with his father, a terrorist learning the family trade. The original post has a link to the Wikipedia entry so you may learn something new.

        • Being born into a particular family and following along with their beliefs isn’t a crime, unless you personally commit one. People blame him for the actions and statements of others, which makes no sense. And many people blame him for things based on sheer speculation, beyond what he was actually charged with. People blame him for everything in the confession document, ignoring that it was signed for a plea deal. The best information source is at the Military Commission web site, thousands of documents including trial transcripts, going back years. People can take those documents and spin them any way they like, but the bottom line is that he was charged with fighting in a war while not being a member of a regular military, like everybody else on his side of the war and some on the US side at the time. The Military Commissions Act, passed years after his “crime”, was interpreted in such a way as to make everything he did in the war, which were all normal acts of war, into “war crimes” and support for terrorism. That was very controversial, and unprecedented, given his age, and the “child soldier law”, and that’s probably part of the reason the case ended as it did, in a plea bargain.

        • However, it would be nice of the analogy was actually relevant.

  5. I had never heard of Kony until this week, so I didn’t particularly care about it, but I have been wondering how much to care. I also have not been sure over the course of reading various Greenwald columns and so forth whether I truly cared as much about Omar Khadr’s ordeal as I should. Now it turns out the latter question is integrally necessary for determining the answer to the first question, which sheds some light on why I was perplexed about it in the first place.

    So by shedding that light, your post has allowed me to come to a decision on the matter: I am going to stop worrying about either question and just go on about trying to enjoy my life. Two cheers for consistency!

    • Watched it, so what? A bunch of liberal wackos. What doe his being Canadian have to do with anything relevant

      • He was a child soldier when he was shot, captured and detained – The rules of war were made to protect child soldiers like Omar – now a full grown man, being a Canadian (born in Scarborough Ontario) We must as Canadians stop ignoring problems and take responsibility for our own people (Good or Bad) and allow Omar to return to his own country Canada. If any of Mr Harper’s or Bob Rae’s kids were detained in a foreign prisons under simular circumstances many Canadians like myself would work just as hard for their release because it’s the right thing to do as a fellow Canadian. It’s time for Canadians to take responsibility for their own people. Not expecting our neighbours and friends in America the chore of looking after him.

        • Richard:

          You forgot the part that he was engaged in a battle before he was shot. As for the rules of war, you are wrong, they were developed to protect legitimate combatants and civilians, neither category he falls into.

          • You’re right: he wasn’t a legitimate combatant because he was a child. And no, I don’t care that under US law he could (not would, could) be charged with murder as an adult. That is entirely beside the point. He was groomed to be a soldier at the age of 10, when he should have been playing soccer in Scarborough. He was 15 when he was captured and still very much a juvenile. Scott, if you have no sympathy for child soldiers, if you think they should all be left to twist like any adult, then at least admit that.

            The fact that every person who has been in a position to affect the outcome for Omar Khadr following his capture has equivocated with regard to his status as a child soldier is disgusting. The whole point here is that everyone is very clear about what constitutes a child soldier and how abhorrent the practice is until it treads too close to home. Make that child soldier a Muslim, put him in Afghanistan battling Americans and suddenly he’s no longer “really” a child soldier.

            Let’s at least be honest about it.

          • I have not forgotten that part you mention Scott. After hearing his former lawyer Denis Edney speak in Edmonton about this matter I understand now that the evidence collected by the Military was questionable with elements of doubt of Omar being responsible for the death of the U.S. medic Christopher Speer. Have you ever heard it said – “he said – she said , and then there’s the truth” and the saying “the man who claims he knows all truths is a mad man.” The element of doubt will always remain with Omar’s story. We are LAW ABIDING as Canadians so as it stands as of April 2009 when the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms made it obligatory for the government to immediately demand Khadr’s return. It becomes time for Canada to take responsibility for one of their native sons Omar Khadr.

            My sincere condolences to the family, friends of Christopher Speer.

  6. Now the latest story is the Canadian government is stalling on the transfer, blaming the US although it has said it’s waiting for Canada.
    I don’t think there was a lot Canada could do until the US was able to sort this mess out on their side, but there is no excuse at all for the delaying tactics and secrecy of this government.

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