Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Zaynab Khadr Hunger Strike Enters 3rd week

Zaynab Khadr has now been on a hunger strike for over 2 weeks, she is doing this in one of the most public places in Canada, yet, this story has received almost no press coverage -- beyond some hateful speech on a few conservative to right wing blogs. I find this mystifying, whatever ones politics -- this a newsworthy story. Under other circumstances, Omar's plight would be a Hollywood movie, and on the nightly news. But it's not.

This says a lot about Canada, our shift to the right, our fear of the other, our obliviousness to our duties under international law and our abject failure to live up to the principles of basic Canadian decency. It also a reflection of the extent that American conservative Republican party style politics has crept into Canada. Canada remains the only country not to demand that the Americans repatriate their nationals from Guantanamo. England did it, Australia did, and those people are now free to walk the streets -- there have been no problems.

Few people in Canada are aware or care about what we, under both Liberal and Conservative governments have done to Canadian citizens who happen to be Muslim in the name of the war or terrorism, or more cynically, in the name of kowtowing to American neocons. Omar Khadr is a young man, and even some of his jailers say that
"Omar Khadr is "salvageable" and a "good kid," but a prolonged detention at Guantanamo Bay could turn the Canadian into a radical, say the U.S. soldiers who guard him.

His guards describe him as a "likable, funny and intelligent young man," according to documents from Foreign Affairs, which also state the 21-year-old hopes Canada will get him out of the U.S.-run detention centre in Cuba.

The reports, based on visits to Khadr by department officials in April and March, say American soldiers posted to the detention centre seem "to look out for him by stopping by to chat on occasion, convincing him to meet with his lawyers and encouraging him to 'keep his nose clean.'"


Unfortunately for Omar, Stephen Harper is in the process of "getting tough" on young offenders right here in Canada, he is even proposing life sentences in adult prisons for 14 year olds -- a policy which he has been probably been told by the professionals at Correctional Services Canada, is wrong headed and counter productive. Short of receiving a direct order from his boss, George Bush, there is no chance that Harper will do anything to ensure the release of a child soldier from Guantanamo. As far as he, and sadly, many Canadians are concerned, he should stay there till he dies.

Not all Canadians though, there is one very respected one who disagrees... Romeo Dallaire asks, Who are the real criminals in Omar Khadr's case?

Press Release
Entering her third week at the foot of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the
older sister of Toronto-born Omar Khadr remains on hunger strike in an attempt to solidify public support for her brother to receive a fair trial in Canada. Omar, who speaks five languages fluently, has been held in the American detainment camps in Guantanamo Bay since he was 15. He was captured in 2002 while serving as a translator for Arab militants, after a Special Forces operation left an American soldier critically wounded.

Since his
imprisonment, his case has been plagued by allegations of torture, mistreatment and falsified military records doctored to make him appear guilty of the crimes of those adults around him. His older sister Zaynab has spent years campaigning for his return to Canada, but has met fierce opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.

The family, who voted for Stephen Harper, has been condemned by
the left for comments suggesting they disapproved of Canada's lax drug laws and generous allowances towards homosexuals. Similarly, the right has condemned the family for their anti-war stance and rhetoric suggesting that Omar was justified in any actions he took after six hours of bombardment killed the adults around him. In her weblog detailing each day of her hunger strike, Zaynab detailed visiting the Museum of Civilization last week where she was attracted to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stating that “if we followed it, we would truly be a great people”. Hosted at TheKhadrLegacy.com, a website built by the family to update both supporters and detractors on the updates in Omar’s case, the weblog also details her Tuesday visit to a Rideau doctor who suggested that fatigue and malnutrition were responsible for her decreased energy and stamina heading into her third week. Challenged by AM640’s John Oakley earlier this week about how far she was willing to take her hunger strike, Zaynab responded that she was willing to go to any length, just as she hoped any Canadian would for their own younger brother. "The split-second decision of a terrified child caught in unimaginable circumstance does not make him a terrorist", opines Zaynab, critical of the common sentiment that her younger brother is a hardened Jihadist. "I just want to be as normal as any normal unknown Canadian", wrote Omar from his prison cell in a letter to the CBC in June. Canada is now the only Western government to support the detainment camps, as even the United States has condemned its own "black hole" in which civil, international and military laws have not applied. Both presidential candidates in the American election this November have said that they intend to close down the Guantanamo camps. Prosecutors, attorneys and defendants have all announced they are boycotting the proceedings, or resigning rather than being forced to serve in a system that has been condemned internationally as a "kangaroo court". The Supreme Court ruled five months ago that Canadian government had acted illegally in the matter of Khadr, by being complicit in the torture of a Canadian citizen. The United Nations, Canadian Bar Assocation, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all condemned the refusal to provide Khadr a fair trial in a Canadian court. He is the only prisoner to have cooperated fully with authorities, and has begged to be allowed to return to Canada.

The Khadrs’ mother reports feeling torn between her loyalty to her
children, and her belief that Zaynab is needlessly risking harm to herself. “She could die and it would make no difference” she says, “Canada is just not going to let him come home”.