Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/09/dallaire2.jpgCanadian Sen. Romeo Dallaire (canadacouncil.ca)
Canadian Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a retired general made famous for commanding the ill-fated U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, came to Washington this week to demand the extradition of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen whom the U.S. has held at Guantanamo Bay for six years. Khadr was only 15 when U.S. forces apprehended him in Afghanistan in 2002, and Dallaire said the continued detention of a “child soldier” contributed to a climate of “impunity” for those who would force children into military service.
“This puts Canada and the United States in a precedent-setting mode to undermining an international convention,” Dallaire said in an interview Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill. “It is creating an atmosphere of impunity.”
Dallaire has become a leading voice for human rights after the U.N. Security Council rejected his April 1994 request to intervene in the genocide. His subsequent struggles with post-traumatic stress, depression and substance abuse arising from the trauma of inaction in the face of the genocide garnered international attention. His latest human-rights efforts center around ending child soldiery — something he connected to his own experience.
“When you’ve had an AK-47 barrel rammed up your nostrils by a kid whose eyes are glazed, a 12-year old with his finger on the trigger, with all the other kids going wild, and to this day you believe that he didn’t pull the trigger because he saw the chocolate bar in your hand” is a powerful impulse to enforcing the international Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Dallaire said. That happened to him in Rwanda. “It’s perverse, it’s gross — girls used as sex slaves and bush wives; boys shooting and maiming. … It’s a perversion of the adult perception of what children are and should be. It’s inconceivable, but it’s also factual.”
Khadr, he said, is another example of this.
The Bush administration does not consider Khadr a soldier, much less a child soldier, but rather an enemy combatant. After detaining Khadr for three years at Guantanamo Bay — where, his lawyers allege, he was tortured — the military charged him in 2005 with the murder of a Special Forces soldier in eastern Afghanistan. His military tribunal is scheduled for October.
In March, however, his assigned defense attorney, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, alleged in a pretrial hearing that the military had falsified an account of the July 2002 firefight in which Khadr was said to have thrown the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer. Kuebler charged that the military’s after-action report initially said that the assailant was killed in battle, which, if true, would exonerate Khadr.
Khadr “faces charges that are more and more smelling like they are trumped up,” Dallaire said.
“He was alleged to have committed this offense as an adolescent,” said retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Xenakis, a former commander of the southeast Army regional medical command. “He deserves, as such, a comprehensive and fair evaluation and treatment, and I think that’s something all of us as Americans would recognize.” Kuebler has filed a request with the military commissions for Xenakis, a child psychiatist, to evaluate Khadr for his coming trial.
The Canadian senator desires that the U.S. extradite Khadr to Canada, where he would be tried under a Canadian anti-terror law. Ideally, Dallaire said, the now-21 year old Khadr would be held in a “juvenile-type” jail and would undergo a program of “rehabilitation and reintegration.” He came to Washington Wednesday and met with Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and William Delahunt (D-Mass.) in the hope of testifying before their House Judiciary subcommittees in September. Neither congressman’s office responded to requests for comment.
Human rights advocates have consistently denounced Khadr’s treatment by the U.S. government.
“Omar Khadr wasn’t the only child the U.S. held at Guantanamo,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s disturbing that our government was rounding up 12 and 15 year-olds and trying to pass them off as the worst of the worst. And it’s even more shocking that, six and a half years later, they are still refusing to send Omar Khadr home.”
“Omar Khadr was a kid when captured, and there is reason to doubt the U.S. government’s account” of his case, said Hina Shamsi, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who has observed Khadr’s legal procedings at Guantanamo. “It’s about time he is released from Guantanamo and treated in accordance with international law on child soldiers at the very least.”
Dallaire, a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, expressed frustration with the Ottawa government of Stephen Harper, a conservative. Harper has not sought extradition for Khadr. “He says he doesn’t want to interfere in the U.S. campaign against terror,” Dallaire said, leaving Canada as “the only country not repatriating its national” from Guantanamo Bay. Dallaire speculated that Khadr’s family, who he called “rabid supporters of Al Qaeda and international terrorism,” are too politically toxic for Harper to be seen as placating — despite Canada’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We don’t put children in jail because the father steals,” Dallaire pointed out.
While his immediate priority is Khadr, Dallaire’s campaign against child soldiery does not stop with this case. In 2010, Dallaire said, he will publish a book mixing fiction and polemic about child soldiers. It is provisionally titled “They Fight Like Warriors But Die Like Children.” He will travel to Cote D’Ivoire and Congo, two nations infamous for their use of child soldiers, to study the issue further and put together what he called “a toolbox” of policy options for confronting the problem.
“If people are not held to account for using child soldiers — which is a crime against humanity — then [troops] will face child soldiers” on the battlefield, Dallaire said. “Troops in the field will have ethical, legal and moral dilemmas. We’re talking about a 12 year old with an AK-47, for Christ’s sake.”