Terrorism: “The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.”
Terrorist: “A person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism; a person who terrorizes or frightens others.”
I went to one of my favourite reference tools, Dictionary.com, to check the above definitions after once again hearing numerous references to the terms last week in the reporting of Omar Khadr’s return to Canada.
By those definitions, Khadr, at the age of 15, Canadian born and of Egyptian decent, the son of a father who was involved in Islamic groups’ efforts to undermine American activities in Asia and the Middle East, was a terrorist. But, as I listened to Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews state the “facts”, and thought about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s coolness on the subject (he has been busy lately, accepting a humanitarian award from some hitherto unheard of organization, being announced the winner of a first ever Nixon award by another, and snubbing the United Nations by not speaking to the General Assembly) I thought about how the legacy of the Karl Rover/Donald Rumsfeld era has influenced Canadian political thought.
Consider that a 15-year-old, facing overwhelming odds in a gunfight with American forces in Afghanistan, and himself eventually severely wounded, somehow ended up in Guantanamo Bay, which will go down in history as one of the great travesties against justice. In an attempt to resolve his situation, Khadr pleaded guilty, “pursuant to a pre-trial agreement in a military commission, to murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying.”
This after spending years in what any reasonable person would conclude to be illegal captivity. I especially liked the phrase “murder in the violation of the law of war.”
In response to a 9-11 attack on its own soil, largely orchestrated by Saudi Arabians, the George W. Bush government invaded Iraq and Afghanistan because, uh, well, they didn’t happen to be buddies of and oil suppliers to the Western world. So a Canadian kid who had no business being where he was took part in a battle against American soldiers who had no business where they were. From what I have read, it is highly debatable that any court in the free world would have convicted Khadr of murder based on the evidence, which is inconsistent, to be generous.
But “murder in violation of the law of war”? Who’s kidding whom? Where, exactly, do we find this “law of war”? Somehow, we have been brainwashed into accepting the notion that those who fight on the opposing side are necessarily terrorists, while we and our allies are, well, fighting the good fight. There is ample evidence in every conflict that those fighting the good fight often do very, very bad things. We accept that bad behavior, acts that certainly wouldn’t be justified under any rational “law of war”, because it is undertaken by people on our side of a war or a conflict or a police action or whatever term governments of the day deem to be most palatable to their citizens.
The simple fact is that, as Canadians weigh in on both sides of the argument about how Khadr should be treated and what sort of danger he might be, what we really know about his role in that fateful incident comes predominantly from one side. We can all probably agree that this kid, and others like him, had no right getting involved when, as Regional District of Central Kootenay chair John Kettle likes to say, they “didn’t have a dog in the fight.” But it’s pretty hard to argue that Americans had a dog in it either, just as they didn’t in Iraq.
It’s all enough to long for the political success of perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul, who argues that the U.S. has to stop playing policeman to the world. Surely by now we have enough evidence that the approach hasn’t led us down a path to peace.
And Canadians shouldn’t fall into the trap of making out Omar Khadr as a bogeyman who should keep us all sleepless with fear.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.