September 11, 2011 marks the 10 year anniversary of the most tragic, terrorist attack on American soil. Many Americans lost their lives, including 8 children aboard UA Flight 175 and AA Flight 77. Another child whose life was changed forever by 9/11 was Omar Khadr, a Canadian boy who at 15 years old on July 22, 2002 was picked up in Afghanistan after a firefight where he used grenades to maim American troops. He was severely injured, but was healed by American military personnel and brought back to prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and later Guantanimo to be tried as an “enemy combatant” and for the murder of Sgt. Christopher Speer.
Despite the reprehensible actions of Khadr, we have to remember he was only a child. The United Nations considers Khadr to be a “child soldier,” that is a child recruited or coerced into an armed group to work in any capacity. Khadr’s father involved him with racial Islamicists and the Taliban at a time when he was still a young child and supposedly incapable of making such serious decisions. US intelligence thought he could provide information on Al Qaeda, despite having met Osama bin Laden only once when he was 10 years old. Khadr has been depressed and suicidal during his stay at Guantanimo. He has claimed he was tortured both at Bagram and at Guantanimo, for example being placed in stress positions until he soiled himself and not being given a change of clothes, being told he would be sent to foreign prisons where they liked little boys, etc.
After several habeas writs and two questionable military tribunals, on October 25, 2010, Khadr plead guilty to murder and other counts of terrorism and conspiracy and was sentenced to 8 years and repatriation to Canada in one year. However, time served at Guantanimo was not included in the 8 years sentence. On the bright side, the Canadian government may soon retain Khadr, now 24, in prison in Canada for the rest of his term.
Nelson Mandela has said “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” If the way Khadr as a child soldier was treated at Guantanimo is any indication of the civility of our American society, I am deeply concerned for the approximately 100,000 youth incarcerated in the United States on any given day.