Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Well, the inevitable has happened. We all knew it was coming. Canada’s most famous ‘child soldier’, Omar Khadr, is about to receive an apology and a compensation package from the Canadian government – i.e. the Canadian tax payer – ” for abuses he suffered while detained in the U.S. military prison for captured and suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
Cue the outrage.
There is so much to say on this case, far more than is reasonable to expect in a blog post, but I will try to distil what I think is important. Firstly and by far most importantly, Omar Khadr was captured on a battlefield while fighting, and trying very hard to kill, Allied forces in Afghanistan while in the employ of a recognised terrorist group. Full stop. He was fighting with a terrorist group that wants nothing more to re-impose its hateful, intolerant, pre-Medieval aberration of Islam on fellow Afghans and kill a lot of people in the process. Ergo, he was a terrorist.
We can argue forever whether Mr. Khadr was a willing member of the Taliban or coerced into joining by his deceased father’s warped sense of Islam. He may very well have had no choice, having been raised in a family sympathetic to Al Qaeda – by the way, Al Qaeda is another recognised terrorist group. But to call him a child soldier is an insult to all the real child soldiers who are ripped from the bosom of their families (and in many cases forced to kill or witness the slaughter of their parents and siblings) in conflicts around the world. No, Omar Khadr was not a child soldier: he was a (perhaps unwilling?) member of at least one group that the Canadian government has listed as a terrorist organisation.
Secondly, did Canada or Canadians send Mr. Khadr to Guantanamo? No, we did not, the Americans did. If anyone is to pay compensation, and I am not saying that such is warranted, it is Uncle Sam not taxpayers from Moose Jaw. We did not run Guantanamo, we did not subject Mr. Khadr to whatever treatment he suffered. We owe him nothing to ‘make up’ for what happened to him.
Thirdly, did Canadian officials (read: CSIS) act improperly when they were invited to question Mr. Khadr in Guantanamo? No, they did not. They were doing the very job we ask them to do, investigate terrorist threats to this country and keep us safe. Mr.Khadr was the son of a man well known to our spies for his terrorist links. He may have been privy to information about others he met in Afghanistan who could have posed a threat to all of us back here in Canada. CSIS would have been remiss, and professionally negligent in my view, if they had not run down every possible intelligence lead and elected not to talk to Mr. Khadr, even if it meant going to Cuba.
I have written it before and I will repeat it here. I do not know if Mr. Khadr is a reformed man. I do not know if he regrets what he did, the ideology he subscribed to, or the associations he made. Only he knows that. I do wish him well on his continued journey to ‘normalcy’ but Canada did not make Mr. Khadr a terrorist. He did that himself, with the help of his family. That, in the end, is something we must not forget.
The payment of compensation to Canadians who claim to have suffered ill treatment at the hands of other nations at our behest has become a mini-industry. We are doling out millions to people for reasons that are not always clear, at least not to me. This has to stop. We cannot continue to offer knee-jerked apologies to everyone who ‘palled around’ with terrorists or engaged in terrorist activity and then suffered as a result. And we should not offer money to those who were mistreated by other nations: those responsible for the ill-treatment should pay.
I am not a slippery slope argument fan but I do fear that if we don’t nip this trend in the bud we will see many more cases along these lines. What is next: someone sues CSIS because of a routine interview after which they felt ‘stressed’? Do we want CSIS to do its job or not?
I repeat, this merry-go round of apologies and money has to stop.
Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community. His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon.