Growing Up Gitmo

Omar Khadr isn't your average Guantanamo detainee. A Canadian citizen of Arab descent, Khadr was taken into U.S. custody when he was 15 years old on charges of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Now 19, Omar has spent four years of his teenage life growing up at Gitmo.

And now that the Supreme Court has ruled that trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in military tribunals violates U.S. and international law, it's unclear when, or if, he'll get the chance to argue for his freedom.

Khadr's family -- dubbed Canada's First Family of Terrorism -- moved him to Pakistan and later Afghanistan when he was just 4 years old. The U.S. government says his father was a close friend of Osama bin Laden and founding member of al Qaeda who would take the family to bin Laden's compound to celebrate Ramadan.

When Omar was 15 -- a time when most American kids are getting tutored in math or for the SATs -- his father got him a private tutor in al Qaeda weapons training. It's after that training that Omar allegedly lobbed a hand grenade, killing U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Another soldier was wounded in the attack, and Omar was left nearly blind in one eye.

The U.S. government is unequivocal it its allegations of Khadr's crimes, saying he "conspired with Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri … and various other members of the al Qaeda organization." With them, American authorities say, Khadr intended to attack civilians and carry out acts of terrorism.

But do his actions mean he should be detained and treated as an adult at the age of 15? Amnesty International says no -- it has protested Omar's incarceration at Guantanamo, calling it cruel and degrading treatment and a total denial of justice. At minimum, Amnesty said, he should be kept away from other adults and given a proper education.

Khadr's lawyers said his detainment violates international law. After spending the bulk of his adolescence in captivity, his lawyers told ABC News that his psychological state has gotten progressively worse.

"When I heard there were suicides at Guantanamo, I honestly thought they could be talking about Omar," said Muneer Ahmad, one of Khadr's attorneys.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a child and adolescent psychiatry expert in Washington, adds that "he was literally a child soldier." And like all child soldiers, Xenakis said, it's hard to know whether Khadr was coerced into fighting or whether he was doing it of his own free will.

Of the roughly 450 people currently held at Guantanamo, only 10 have been charged with anything -- Omar Khadr is one of them. His case was supposed to go before a military tribunal on Sept. 18, just one day before his 20th birthday. His lawyers say he'd be the first person in modern history to be put on trial for war crimes committed as a minor.

After this morning's Supreme Court ruling in the Hamdan case, it's unclear if Khadr will ever face a military tribunal. The court's decision makes it less likely that he'll be tried for conspiracy -- one of the three counts he's charged with. But if Congress and the Bush administration can redesign the tribunals to comply with the Supreme Court decision, he might still go before a military court.

Otherwise, what happens to Omar is anyone's guess. He could be extradited to Canada and face trial there, or he could remain at Guantanamo and never get his day in court.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...