Thursday, July 06, 2017

Omar Khadr deserves his $10 million

Canada is currently going through one of those ethical dilemmas/debates that occur from time to time and that split the populace pretty much down the middle. The debate is largely split on ideological and party political lines even though the issue is really one of pure morality and not political beliefs.
The issue I am referring to is the Liberal government's apology and awarding of $10.5 in damages to Omar Khadr, in settlement of a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. Khadr is the one-time "child soldier", born in Canada of Afghan parents. As a child, he was essentially abducted by his family and enlisted as an al-Qaeda errand boy. Later, he was pressed into service with the Taliban as a bomb maker, and was badly wounded and taken prisoner after a firefight. Once in custody, he was accused of murdering a US soldier, although it is still not entirely clear that it was Khadr himself who the the grenade, nor how a charge of murder fits into actions carried out on a battlefield. He was 15 years old. He did plead guilty to throwing the grenade as part of a plea deal, although he later recanted and claimed that he really had no alternative, and saw it as the only possible way of one day finding his way back to his home in Canada. Either way, Khadr, still a minor and legally a Canadian citizen, was incarcerated in the notorious US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, illegally according to some, where he spent some 10 years, and was subjected to sleep deprivation, torture and other abuse.
For 10 years, the Harper Conservative government (and even the previous outgoing Liberal government) stubbornly refused to repatriate Khadr to Canada, despite a 2010 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Khadr's human rights were being violated at Guantanamo Bay. Ultimately, in 2012, he was repatriated, and now Justin Trudeau has made Khadr, now 30, an official apology for the Canadian government's foot-dragging in the case, and a $10.5 million financial settlement (although the family of the American soldier who died, allegedly at Khadr's hands, is claiming that the money should go directly to them, along with over $120 million more).
So, the moral dilemma that is being loudly debated right now is: does Khadr deserve anything from the Canadian taxpayer, and, if so, is $10.5 million excessive or not enough? The Liberals, and those of a liberal bent, are generally in favour if it; Conservatives and conservatives and groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, say the amount is too much, and/or that he should not have been repatriated in the first place. Here's Jason Kenney: "This confessed terrorist should be in prison paying for his crimes, not profiting from them at the expense of Canadian taxpayers."
I find myself in the former camp. Based on the Supreme Court rulings in 2008 and 2010, and on similar cases like Maher Arar (who was compensated $10 million 2007 for government actions that resulted in his torture in Syria in 2002) and an agreed compensation for another trio of Canadians who were tortured in Egypt and Syria between 2001 and 2004, the legal case for Khadr seems cut and dried, and the compensation level appropriate.
And the moral case? Yes, the Canadian government prevaricated and blocked his repatriation for years without due cause, during which time a whole host of his human rights were violated. And the amount? Well, pick a figure. Or use the figure previously agreed for another similar case. Either way, it is half of the amount Khadr's lawyers are suing the government for, in the wrongful imprisonment lawsuit.
It's a tricky one, though, especially when settlements for serious drunk-driving-inflicted injuries routinely come in at less than half-a-million dollars. From what I have gleaned from articles, comments and letters, pretty much everyone has an opinion on the matter, and a small majority think it was right to apologize and compensate Khadr. A good proportion of those, however, seem to think that $10.5 million is too much, even if few are willing to put forward a specific alternative sum, or explain how they might come to a different valuation.

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