Candice Malcolm: A Jihadist Hits the Jackpot

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(This analysis originally appeared in the Weekly Standard)

When former president Barack Obama initiated efforts to implement his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay and transfer its detainees to U.S. and foreign prisons, he started a cascade effect that has boosted the global jihadist insurgency. The most recent example of the impact of Obama’s foreign policy comes from just across the 49th parallel. On the Fourth of July, news broke that an Obama acolyte—Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—would offer a historic settlement and official apology to a former Guantánamo Bay inmate. Trudeau’s Liberal government secretly awarded C$10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a man convicted of war crimes and the murder of an American soldier; Guantánamo’s youngest detainee is now 30 years old and living in Edmonton, Alberta.

The case of Omar Khadr is as provocative as it is unusual. Khadr was born in Toronto, a Canadian citizen, but his Egyptian-Palestinian family spent most of Khadr’s childhood in Pakistan. Khadr was brought up under the guidance of a mother who preferred her children be raised not in Canada but in an al Qaeda training camp and a father intent on grooming his seven children to participate in jihad. The father, Ahmed Said al-Khadr, was a senior al Qaeda officer and financier described by his wife as an “old friend” of Osama bin Laden. The Khadr family once lived in the bin Laden compound, and the al Qaeda leader himself attended the wedding of the eldest Khadr daughter, Zaynab—an unabashed Islamist who has expressed her own support for the 9/11 mastermind. Another son, Abdurahman Khadr, who took a different path than Omar and has worked with American intelligence agencies, told PBS he grew up “in an al Qaeda family.”

By the age of 15, Omar Khadr was in Afghanistan, attending jihadist training camps and meeting with senior al Qaeda figures, including bin Laden. He had taken part in a number of operations meant to kill or injure U.S. forces. He was captured following a gunfight between plain-clothed terrorists and U.S. Delta Force soldiers at an al Qaeda compound near Khost, Afghanistan. After the battle, American army medics were sent in to tend to any survivors, and Khadr threw a grenade that killed one of those medics, Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. Khadr himself faced life-threatening injuries from gun wounds; he survived only because he was treated by U.S. medics who made it through the firefight.

Khadr was airlifted to Bagram, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, where he received further medical attention and was subject to initial questioning. Here Khadr stated that “he felt happy when he heard he had killed an American” and signed a statement of facts confessing to the murder of Sgt. Speer. Khadr later claimed the confession was the result of torture and coercion, but a military judge ruled that Khadr signed the statement after he learned investigators had found a videotape showing him building IEDs. Khadr was transferred to Guantánamo—his home for the next decade—where he was held, interrogated, and prosecuted in a military tribunal. He was found guilty in 2010 of five counts of war crimes, including the murder of Sgt. Speer.

Rather than letting him serve the 40-year sentence handed down by the military tribunal, however, Khadr’s lawyers negotiated a plea deal, and the Obama administration reportedly began pressuring Canada to accept custody of Khadr. Years later, it was revealed through Hillary Clinton’s leaked private emails that she and her staff had personally intervened and encouraged Canadian officials to repatriate Khadr.

In 2012, Khadr was transferred to a maximum-security prison in Canada, and by 2015, he was released on bail by the country’s notoriously liberal court system. Meanwhile, Khadr and his lawyers had filed a civil lawsuit against the government of Canada, alleging that it had failed to uphold his rights as a Canadian citizen. The country’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the Canadian government had indeed infringed upon Khadr’s rights when it sent its own interrogators to Guantánamo to question, as the court’s opinion put it, “a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors.” Khadr first sought C$100,000 in damages in his civil suit; he later raised the amount to C$20 million. The Supreme Court ruling, however, said nothing about financial compensation, “leaving it to the government to decide how best to respond” and noting that the “remedy sought” by Khadr was “an order that Canada request his repatriation.”

The question therefore remains: Was Trudeau’s Independence Day decision a deliberate provocation and an anti-American gesture or simply an unassuming, if not naïve, attempt to right an extraordinary wrong? The answer to this question depends largely upon one’s view of Omar Khadr. Some see him as a traitor who defected to fight alongside the enemy, an al Qaeda terrorist and a convicted war criminal, while others see a victim, a brainwashed son and a former child soldier.

Those who defend the Trudeau government’s payment to Omar Khadr rely upon two essential propositions. First, they assert, Khadr was a child soldier and should therefore be treated differently from other terrorists captured and detained at Guantánamo. And second, Khadr’s advocates say that his confession and admission of guilt were the result of torture and routine rights violations, and should not be upheld as a true guilty plea.

A close examination of the facts, however, shows that both assertions are myths that do not hold up to basic...(READ MORE)