Rivers provides context on a controversial federal government decision: giving Omar Kahdr $10.5 million

Rivers 100x100 By Ray Rivers

July 7th, 2017



They called him an enemy combatant, a bastardized term for ‘prisoner of war’ invented by the Bush (II) administration to rationalize bypassing the established rules of war, the Geneva Convention. This is the global superpower which claims to hold the moral high ground, yet refuses to sign on to the International Court of Justice. So it should be unsurprising that it would make up its own rules and embrace dishonoured practices like torture or unlimited confinement.

Should anybody feel sorry for Canadian-born Omar Khadr?

Omar Khadr as a boy

Omar Khadr as a boy

His father, widely accused of being a terrorist and confident of al Qaeda leader bin Laden, had taken him to that troubled land of Afghanistan when Omar was barely a teen. But the fifteen year old Omar had been working at an Afghan militia compound, video-taped assembling land mines – the kind of IEDs which may have ended up killing Canadian soldiers.

The Americans invaded the compound with a hundred soldiers using high explosives, helicopters and planes, and killed the four or five fighters who had been protecting the premises. In the fracas Omar Khadr was shot a number of times in the back or chest, and something happened to his eye. But he managed to hurl a grenade, likely in an act of self-defence, which is believed to have exploded killing one American soldier and wounding another.

Of course there is no such thing as self-defence if one is an enemy combatant. So they hauled Khadr off to the extraordinary prison and torture chamber that been constructed at Guantanamo naval base (Gitmo) in occupied Cuba. And he was held there for about a decade before facing a military court and confessing under duress to his ‘crime’. Once convicted he was allowed, by our Supreme Court, to return and serve his time in Canada.

Omar Khadr cropped

Omar Khadr has said he wants to prove to Canadians: that I’m a good person.”

Back here he appealed to the courts and won a number of judgements, about being a juvenile when imprisoned; about the complicity of three subsequent Canadian governments – Chretien, Martin and Harper – in his imprisonment and interrogation; and that his rights under the Charter as a Canadian had been denied. Out on bail Omar Khadr had sued the Canadian government and its taxpayers for millions of dollars as compensation for the injustice our leaders allowed to happen on their watch.

Among other things, Canada never requested, in fact refused to allow, that he be re-repatriated to face justice here, instead of being held at Gitmo. This is in contrast to what British and Australian governments had done with their citizens, captured by the Yanks and accused of being enemy combatants.

So the Justice Department is giving him an apology and 10.5 million dollars, something that has enraged most Canadians who will likely never ever see a million dollars in any one place, let alone ten and a half.

I have followed this case for a number of years and essentially concur with Canada’s highest court that he had been treated unfairly and that his rights as a Canadian had been denied him. I think he is entitled to an apology for that. He was a juvenile at the time of his arrest and should have been treated appropriately. And his human rights were violated as he was subjected to advanced interrogation, aka torture. It was Omar’s father who led him to jihadism and terrorism. How much should the son pay for the sins the father?

On the other hand Omar was in a bad place; he was involved with people linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban; he had been doing a bad thing, making war materials to be used against allied forces, including our own; and he did fight back likely killing and wounding the soldiers as charged. For that he is facing a US judgement against him by the families of the US servicemen injured/killed for over $130 million in damages. Realizing they’ll never likely see that money, the American families have been trying to block the payment being made to Khadr by our government.

What’s with the money? Shouldn’t a legal claim for monetary compensation be justified by some kind of demonstration of financial damage or loss? How likely is it that the American soldier Omar presumably killed would be worth $130 million (US) to anyone but his wife – to whom he’d be priceless? And did Omar lose out earning $10.5 million while in a US rather than Canadian prison? Or had he been released early by a Canadian court, would he have earned that amount of money when his only known vocation was assembling land mines?

Of course he could have become a child pop star or hockey player, but that would have been difficult to do from prison. Still, Khadr had to organize his own legal defence in both the US and Canada, because his home country had written him off. For that he is entitled to compensation for legal costs – but I would hope his solicitors are not charging him more than ten million dollars.

Some politicians are comparing the $10.5 million to the few hundred thousand that is awarded to injured and disabled Canadian veterans of war. Such seemingly unfair treatment will not be easily forgotten as we approach the next federal election, something opposition leader Sheer is already warning us. Should we be rewarding the guy who made the kind of bombs which maimed and killed Canadian soldiers?

The government may argue that it minimized our financial risk by settling out of court rather than losing another case to Omar, who had been demanding twice as much. But at least a legal decision would be easier to accept than our government setting such an important precedent, voluntarily paying off an ex-con, still on bail, and former terrorist – child though he was.

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers

Background links:

Enemy Combatant –   A Political Albatross –   It’s Justified

US Court Judgement –   Blocking Canadian Compensation

Juvenile Issue –   Supreme Court Decision

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15 comments to Rivers provides context on a controversial federal government decision: giving Omar Kahdr $10.5 million

  • Jim Riley

    A person born in a country is a citizen of that country and entitled to all of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Children born in Canada are automatically a citizen. Khadr met those requirements and any of us Canadian citizen should be able to expect our constitution and rights and freedoms to be enforced. Multiple government regimes both Liberal and Conservative governments have failed all of us by not insuring that the rights were not applied.

    As a child soldier, he has suffered an even greater abandonments by his family. The brain washing seemed to make a killing machine out of him. Why two people in a foreign country met is because one of them had invaded Iraq? as a US military personnel. I do not understand why a soldier’s family has the right to sue a child for invading another country? This interaction happened on foreign soil and not US soil.

  • Penny

    In a television interview Omar Khadr has indicated that he wants to become a nurse. No apology given to him or any amount of money ( which I feel he should never have received) will restore his reputation in my mind. In fact it is the opposite. One’s reputation is established by words and deed. – where does that leave him.

    It is a privilege to be a Canadian Citizen not a given. He was Canadian because his parents chose to come to Canada, and then used the country when it suited them -( for medical reasons primarily).

  • Sheila Ludgate

    So Khadr hopes that the apology of our gov’t officials (who certainly do not speak for me) and $10.5 million of taxpayer money will allow him to “restore a bit of his reputation”? Oh, it surely will – that is, his reputation as an odious opportunist who continues to display his contempt for the fellow Canadians whose beliefs in human rights and the rule of law allowed this court decision in his favour. I’ve had the honour of being personally acquainted with veterans who defended those very beliefs, and who had little to no compensation for their efforts. Ironic, isn’t it? Shame, shame, shame on the Liberal government and those responsible for this deal and this travesty of justice.

  • Ray Rivers

    Really good discussion everyone. Khadr has stated that he hoped obtaining the apology and big cheque would allow him to restore a bit of his reputation. I think the financial award is alienating, rather than gaining him any kind of public sympathy. If he really wanted to restore his reputation he should donate some of the money to the wife of the American killed (if he really was responsible for that death) and the balance, net of legal fees, to an appropriate charity. Then he would have indeed gained some credibility and respect with his fellow Canadians.


    • Hans


      It would also help if he publicly condemned all Islamic terrorism, including that of his family members. If he has done so already, I haven’t seen it reported.
      Canada should expect nothing less.

  • d.duck

    I don’t know what is the correct answer.

    – he was raised in a brutal CDN family who supported and was complicit with terrorist activities associated with Al Qaeda

    – he was brain-washed by his Father to believe in the Jihad and hence may not have had free will

    – he built bombs that may have played a role in the death of a US soldier and other coalition soldiers, possible CDN soldiers

    – he was almost 16yo when this incident occur in which he killed one US soldier and wounded another and perhaps should known better

    – Under Chretien & Martin (Liberal) he was prisoned in Guantanamo naval base and tortured

    – Under Harper (PC) he was left there against the Supreme Court of CDN rulings while other countries re-acquired their citizens from this hell-hole

    – he was denied his fundamental Canadian Rights

    – he was captured as a terrorist in a foreign country after killing a US soldier and playing a role in the possible killings of other coalition soldiers by making bombs

    – he has paid his debt by law

    – he has to live with what he did in regards to his role in bomb making and the killing of a soldier and possible other coalition soldiers

    – he is well spoken and appears to have insight

    – he deserves an apology directly by this ‘PM’ for being left and tortured in Guantanamo bay against his rights under the Charter as a Canadian which was ignored by two different gov’t

    – unsure what Omar future potential worth is now or would have been if he was still a Jihad soldier

    – unsure what the US soldier’s potential worth would have been if he lived, though does have a wife and the possible children(?) that he will not see

    – I do agree that the wife of the soldier he killed and the other injured soldier has a right to sue him for their losses and that Omar should understand this and accept this as a possibility due to his role as a young terrorist Jihad who has hopefully grown up to become man of conscience.

  • Gary

    Having read the Supreme Court’s decision in the Khadr case, wherein the court reviewed the history of his incarceration and the lower courts’ disposition of his legal petitions, one is left with these facts. The United States captured him in 2002 after a battle and declared an intention to prosecute him for “war crimes” for killing one soldier and wounding another. How fighting back when under attack becomes a crime remains a mystery. However, that is what they did, and with the aid of legal counsel, Khadr chose a plea deal in 2010. There may have been many motivations for his choice, but choose he did.

    And he got himself back in Canada where we now find that he recants his confession (unsurprising) and says it was duress that caused him to seek the plea deal. The duress he was under, as far as can be determined by the record, occurred in the early 2000s when there was a likelihood that he may have had useful intelligence to divulge.

    There was nothing to suggest that 6 years later he was still being mistreated. In fact, as noted by the SCC, the U.S. courts had stepped in by this time and cleaned up some of Bush’s messes at Guantanamo, providing legal protections to inmates.

    Canada’s role in this was to send our intelligence people to Guantanamo, on two occasions, to de-brief Khadr. I would think that most Canadians would not find that an unusual thing to do, and conversely, since some of his Canadian family was a notorious jihadi spouting bunch of ingrates, and his father was a buddy of the guy behind 9/11, would find it very peculiar, if not downright incompetent, had they not done so.

    The first interview yielded some information. The court did not find any duress on that occasion.

    The complaint made by Khadr was that the agents shared his comments with the Americans. Of course, that is what the intelligence community that is supposed to be protecting us from Khadr and his kind would do. Again, it would be strange if the Canadians refused to co-operate with their American counterparts – we are members of an international agreement requiring us to do so.

    The court agreed with Khadr that his rights under the Charter had been breached and the remedy they provided was to force the Canadian government to give Khadr the intelligence review.

    The second interview was the controversial one. The agent spoke to Khadr after he had been purposely sleep-deprived by the American authorities. There is nothing in the record that suggests we asked them to do that, although our officer knew about it. As it turned out, no intelligence was obtained because Khadr refused to speak to the agent. But, according to the SCC, the mere fact that there was an attempt to question Khadr in these circumstances breached his Charter rights. The court declined to entertain a petition to force the Canadian government to repatriate Khadr because it felt that intruded on the authority of Parliament.

    On balance, I have got say, it really sucks to be a Canadian intelligence agent trying to do your job.

    When Khadr came home, he launched a lawsuit against the government claiming $20 million in damages for these two egregious interviews which he claims were responsible for him being held longer than he otherwise would have been. Maybe. There is a lot fog here.

    The rule of thumb in the legal profession is that you sue for 3 times what you reasonably expect to get. On that basis, he would be looking for something a bit north of $6 million. He got lucky. He is dealing with a Liberal government that never saw a tax dollar it could’t immediately find a use for, so got a bonus of $4 million more.

    Khadr had been employed in Afghanistan in assembling IEDs – roadside bombs, used to blow up trucks and other military vehicles. Many soldiers lost their lives, limbs, eyes, genital parts, etc. to these nasty things. Ironically, Canada is the initiator of the international treaty banning landlines.

    As a matter of principle, and optics, it is bad idea to award money to your enemies in a war, irrespective of legal intricacies. If the court awards it after a trial then that is on the court’s head. But a government that expects to maintain a military with any sort of morale and employ it in war should not be seen to be doing this. And to top it off, while Khadr is being quickly greased by this Liberal largess, the government has been negligent in getting money out to its wounded veterans.

    Welcome to Canada.

  • steve

    I don’t think it was “prison” stopping Omar from being a “hockey star” or a “pop” star. It was his upbringing that was antithetical to everything Canada, has, and does, stand for. Raised as an, Islamic supremacist, a Jihadist, couldn’t possibly be any further away from Canada’s culture, but is a religious ideology that is very prevalent in his homeland Pakistan. A country that was hiding Osama bin Laden in a compound right beside a major military base.

  • I'm alright now

    New Vests for Everybody! Sunny ways my friends, sunny ways.

  • B. Wayne

    This was an act of treason not to mention murder,by a 15 year and 10 month old young man that knew right from wrong. A family that despised our so called Canadian values. A very sad day to be a Canadian and apologies to all active and veteran members of our military.
    This is not my Canada and as a law abiding, tax paying Canadian,I’m taking my flag down from my front porch out of embarrassment.
    Nice hug a thug pay a terrorist federal government we have.

  • Marco M. Pardi

    This is a tangled mess in every respect. But it was foreseeable from the moment the U.S., and by extension any cooperating allies concocted the “enemy combatant” ruse. Age at incident is potentially a factor, but not really in this case. Kids as young as 15 got past U.S. military recruiters in WWI and WWII. But while they were inducted into a State level uniformed service, this young man did not have that luxury; he was part of an ad hoc armed group, albeit with some remote semblance of national allegiance. In fact nationhood was a dim if not alien concept to Afghans; they fought for the warlord of the moment. The fog of his status allowed his imprisonment without the rights and protections afforded to formally recognized prisoners of war. Thus, an ultimate judgement must rest on a complete review, with very likely extensive revision, of the definitions of formal military forces, insurgents, and simply orbital armed groups.

    A separate issue, likely more important to voters, is the monetary settlement. This dispute must hinge on the principle, not the amount (however outrageous that may be). It reminds one of the old joke about asking a woman if she would have sex for a dollar. She answers no. Asked the same question, but for a million dollars (she says yes) the punchline is, We know what you are, we’re just arguing about the price. In my military experience I never heard of compensation for combatants, formal or otherwise. I do know of compensation/reparation to civilians. In 1966 my family finally collected a large sum from Germany over twenty years after German soldiers used one of our Italian homes as a fortress and the British bombed it to dust. We did not hand this home over to the Germans. But the case can be made that Kahdr handed himself to the armed group with which he was fighting. He likely had the chance to run, but obeyed his father’s wishes.

  • Lonely Taxpayer

    The $10.5 payment has already been issued (tax free no doubt) so “what’s done is done”.

    Can the government release any conditions associated with the payment such as whether the dollars can be spent on promoting terrorism – or whether Omar can still sue for the additional $10M originally requested?

  • Fred Pritchard

    The opposition in Ottawa is trying to turn this into something it is not when in fact it was HARPER who got us into this mess in the first place. The only reason we have to pay now, is because Harpo was too pig headed to follow the Canadian law.

    The Supreme Court has ruled three times in this matter. Each time, they ruled that Harper Government violated his basic rights. Like in most cases, it takes a Liberal to clean up the CON mess.

    What was done here is that the Liberal Government came to a settlement in advance of a lawsuit which the Government would have lost based on the three previous court rulings. So rather than risk a much larger bill because of Harper, they settled for a lower amount.

    I am no way a fan of this guy or his family, however, we stand for the rule of law, and unless you change those law, the Government did the responsible thing and prevented a much larger bill – all because Harpo didn’t follow the advice of his deputy ministers and have him fairly as a prisoner.

    So the blame lies with Harpo and the CONs on this one.

  • William Statten

    A very balanced and well written article on this volitile subject.

  • Hans

    Canada is becoming a very naive country. It was Omar’s radical family who caused him to be injured, tortured, etc., and it is his family that owes him for whatever losses he has suffered, not Canada. When a Canadian citizen commits a crime in a foreign country it should not obligate the Canadian government to provide support or pay for the results, whatever they may be.

    If he had not been injured and captured, it is most likely that Omar would have become an adult member of Al Qaeda, and that could still happen.

    Who paid for Omar’s lawyers? Could it have been some foreign Islamic country, or perhaps Al Qaeda?