I was quoted in Canada’s Globe and Mail today about a trial involving a Canadian citizen, Abdullah Khadr, who the US has requested for extradition on terrorism charges. (This is the older brother of Omar Khadr who is still in Guantanamo prison.) It’s an interesting case for a variety of reasons so I thought I would expand upon my thoughts here – and the fact that I’m slightly concerned that the summary of my comments in the article were slightly crunched in a strange way.
The facts of the case seem to be that Khadr, operating in Afghanistan/Pakistan was sought by the United States in 2004. They placed a $500,000 bounty on his head and was captured by Pakistan and detained in a prison for 14 months. Khadr argues that during his time in Pakistani custody that he was routinely abused and tortured. He was interrogated for several days by US agents in Pakistan, before being released. Khadr was then repatriated to Canada in December 2005 and arrested a few days later by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the basis of an indictment by a court in Boston Massachusetts on terrorism charges.
Unsurprisingly, Khadr and his lawyers claim that he will not have a fair trial as the evidence garnered against him was obtained after he was tortured and his right of due process was seriously violated through his treatment. The case has been working its way through the Canadian justice system and earlier this year it was determined that he should be extradited to the US because of the way he was treated. Khadr then walked free. Yesterday, the Canadian government filed a ‘leave to appeal’ stating that “This case raises issues of national importance that require consideration by this court,” and that principles of fundamental justice “should not be used to impose the technicalities of our criminal law on a foreign partner.”
A couple of points that I made in my discussion with the reporter that didn’t quite make the story, but I think are important.
First, I think it that what the Courts are being asked to ultimately decide on is whether Canada’s obligation to fight international terrorism (found in various UN Security Council resolutions, etc) trumps its obligations to ensure the human rights of individuals, including the right to a fair trial and due process (found in Human Rights agreements). Fundamentlally, the right to a fair trial is a non-derogable right. A state can’t suspend it, even in the wake of threats or emergencies, so I think the Court’s choice here is pretty clear. (Hence my comment about human rights taking precedence.)
Second, the part that may have gotten a bit mangled in editorial translation, is that this is an interesting case because Canadian courts have, by and large, been very sympathetic to the needs and concerns of the government/security service. For example, they have sided with the security service when it comes to not disclosing evidence that is of a sensitive/secretive nature in terrorism trials. However, in this case the Courts have effectively drawn a line in the sand and said that while they are sympathetic to the need to fight terrorism, that the treatment of Khadr is a step too far.
Third, a point I was really trying to get across but did not make it into the article, is that the Canadian government is in the position that it is in because of the terrible Bush administration policies on detention and enhanced interrogation. If the Bush administration had ensured that Khadr had fair treatment, this wouldn’t have been a problem – his due process would have been followed and he could have been extradited and prosecuted. And, perhaps if Canada had worked harder to ensure that his rights were being protected (though the historical record here is somewhat vague), they’d have an easier time mounting their case for extradition.
Let’s face the facts – Khadr ain’t Mr. Rogers. He holds terrible views, probably did some terrible things and is not a great guy to be walking around on our streets. I would very much like to see him go on trial for the allegations that have been presented against him – but I know that ultimately he shouldn’t be sent because of the fact that his case was so incredibly poorly handled. It would be a complete and utter violation of everything the Western criminal justice system is supposed to be.
Basically, without trying to sound like a poor man’s Human Rights Watch, the key lesson is that when stated do not following human rights, suspected terrorists can walk free. Not following human rights has made fighting terrorism in this case a lot harder. This is something that must constantly be borne in mind when the temptation to engage in “enhanced interrogation” exists. You often hear arguments about following human rights because ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or it reflects our values, etc. but this is a hard case which demonstrates the real national security interests at stake in ensuring the rights of terrorist suspects are accounted for.
My (first) book, Prisoners of America’s Wars: From the Early Republic to Guantanamo is now shipping on Amazon.com (or Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, etc.). Considering that this would be the closest thing to offspring that I have ever produced, I thought that I would post it in the hope that it may be of some interest to some Duck readers. I’ve pasted the abstract below for that very reason:
Prisoners of war have been a significant feature of virtually every conflict that the United States has engaged in since its revolutionary beginnings. Today visitors to Washington DC will frequently see a black POW flag flying high on government buildings or war memorials and monuments in silent memory. This act of fealty towards prisoners reflects a history where they have frequently been a rallying point, source of outrage and problem for both military and political leaders. This is as true for the 2003 Iraq War as it was the American Revolution.
Yet, the story of prisoners in American wars (both enemies taken and soldiers captured) helps to reveal much about the nation itself; how it fights conflicts and its attitudes towards laws of war. A nation born out of an exceptional ideology, the United States has frequently found itself faced with the contradictory imperatives to be both exemplary and secure, resulting in situations that were sometimes ironic and sometimes tragic. At the same point American diplomats might be negotiating a treaty at The Hague, American soldiers might be fighting against a bloody insurrection where it seemed that little to no rules applied.
The complex relationship between America, prisoners of war and international law is not one entirely based on exemplary culture or carnage, but on a blend of ideology, historical experience and national imperatives that has challenged presidents from Washington through to Obama. By taking a historical approach, this book demonstrates that the challenges America faced regarding international law and the war on terror were not entirely unique or unprecedented, despite the claims made by the Bush administration or its policies, as claimed by its critics. Rather, to be properly understood, such dilemmas must be contextualized within the long history of those prisoners captured in American wars.
Stephen King, eat your heart out.
Although I’ve played around with Wordle (h/t Daniel Little) before, I admit that I never thought of using it for a particular form of academic navel-gazing: generating text-clouds of one’s books. Thus, following in the immortal footsteps of Henry Farrell, Kirean Healy, and Steven Taylor, I present….
The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009) as seen through Wordle.
And Harry Potter and International Relations (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), also as seen through Wordle.