From Sable Aradia
A boy’s father has spent his life fighting for a cause he believes in. Despite the fact that he lives far away in another country, he sends aid in the form of money to the cause overseas. Eventually the father packs up the whole family and moves back to his homeland to fight for that cause.
The boy, eight years old, has never once seen that homeland, though he’s been told about it his whole life. Once he gets there he is forced to live a life in hiding, moving from place to place. At one point he is required to disguise himself as a girl in a culture that is repressive to women. He sees his father intermittently, if at all, but is desperate to make a connection with him.
In the meantime his father, who is in prison for suspected activities with fringe radical groups, is hospitalized for a hunger strike. Later he is released due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing.
Eventually the boy is old enough to join the cause. Desperate to be noticed by his father, he is taken along by a militant group as a translator. During that time he starts training in the use of firearms and other weaponry. He is fourteen years old.
While he is in a house with several full-grown men, and at least one woman and a child, soldiers from a foreign country set up a perimeter. It is part of a series of huts with a granary and a stone wall in the desert. There are weapons on the property. Is it a militant’s complex? Perhaps it is. The foreign soldiers seem to think so.
The soldiers bang on the door of the gate. The men inside tell the soldiers that they are villagers, but the soldiers demand to search the house regardless of their affiliation. They tell them to go away.
45 minutes later the support arrives. Now the house is surrounded by fifty foreign soldiers and a hundred locals. One goes to demand their surrender and is stopped by gunfire. One of the men in the group that the boy is with opens fire.
The woman and the small child flee while the firestorm is going on. The foreign soldiers are shooting at the people in the complex. The people in the complex are shooting at the soldiers. Now the boy, age fifteen, is caught in this conflict, and he knows that regardless of what the men he was with were doing or why they were there, now they are shooting at him.
The bloodbath is catastrophic. The militants in the compound manage to wound some of the foreign soldiers with grenades, but the soldiers call for medevac. Apaches show up and strafe the area, then take their wounded away. Then a pair of Warthogs arrive and blast everything into glass with several 500 lb bombs.
More troops arrive. Now there are a hundred foreign soldiers on the ground. Everything is burning. All the people the boy knows are screaming. Some are on fire. Some are watching their blood pour out onto the ground. Some are missing limbs. Some have no face left. He is one of two survivors of the air strike.
The foreign soldiers come in. A grenade is thrown. Most duck, but it lands near the rear of the group and goes off. A Special Operations soldier serving that day as an (armed) combat medic is fatally wounded in the explosion.
The troops move across the field and see a man with two chest wounds and a holstered pistol reaching for an AK-47. A special forces soldier with a classified identity shoots him in the head and kills him. When the dust clears, the special forces soldier sees the boy crouched, facing away from the action, and shoots him twice in the back.
He lives, and this is confirmed by the soldiers when they do their sweep. He is given on site medical attention and flown out, though he begs the soldiers to finish the job.
The boy is allowed to recover. They learn his identity, and that despite being attached to this militant group, he is a citizen of one of the foreign country’s most important allies.
In the meantime a garbled version of events begins to erupt. Another soldier on the scene has a different story about shooting the boy three times in the chest, while he was reaching for a grenade.
This is almost certainly not an intentional falsehood. Those who have been in a life-threatening situation know that under those conditions it is easy to make a mistake. It is almost impossible to remember all the specific details when people are screaming and dying around you, especially if you have caused any of those wounds! Humans are not designed to kill each other. It messes us up.
But people are angry because a soldier died. And so they believe one soldier’s version of events over the other’s, though medical evidence suggests otherwise.
The boy is denied important surgery for damage to his eyes in order to force him to confess information. The allied government begins to get involved in his case. They are put off, denied, and not informed of the information they request, because the foreign government has reason to believe that the boy knows quite a lot about the force they are fighting, and they mean to get that information by whatever means necessary.
Then members of his own government collude in the interrogation! Theoretically there to defend him, his own government betrays him. They work to coerce a confession. that he has murdered a soldier unlawfully, by promising to bring him home.
And when he has recovered in part from his wounds, they send him to a prison for terrorists that is notorious for torture and abuse of its prisoners, despite his government’s requests, first, that they not do so, and then, that they are told when it happens. He is fifteen.
What happens to him there? I have no urge to repeat it because it is horrific by anyone’s standards. We can say three things for a fact:
One is that evidence is indeed found that show that the boy was actively involved in terrorist acts. He wired a detonator cord. He says at one point during his captivity that he intended to fight because he was told that the soldier were making a war to kill all the people of his faith.
The second is that the boy is tortured, repeatedly, and by a lot of different people. The worst of them, the one that everyone claims he is lying about, is convicted of abusing detainees to extract confessions when another of his charges dies from the abuse. I have no desire to repeat it, but because this, sadly, is a true story, you can read about it here.
The third thing we know is that he is told that if he confesses to throwing the grenade that killed the (armed) combat medic, he will get to go home. Back to his original home, the allied nation of the foreign soldiers who have him, the place where he was born. A place that by now must seem like a myth, or a distant dream.
He is lied to. He does not get to go home. When one member of the allied nation’s diplomatic efforts fail to return the boy, that member resigns in disgust.
A long saga begins. More torture and deprivation in prison. Legal challenges, lawsuits, demands for the right of habeas corpus. There are even sham tribunals to rival the darkest horror story you’ve ever heard of a fascist dictatorship. Nothing moves the foreign nation who has him, and nothing moves his home nation to intervene for him; not even Amnesty International and the UN Council on Human Rights.
At last he is sent back to a prison in his home country when he finally pleads guilty, after another year in this horrible prison. There he is locked up in a maximum security prison. It is a distinct improvement.
Pleas to treat him as a child soldier, or as a juvenile offender, fall on deaf ears, and he is forced to serve the totality of an adult’s sentence, though he was fifteen years old at the time of the battle, when he may (or may not have) thrown a grenade at a man trying to kill him who had just firebombed everyone and everything around him.
His case comes up for bail. It is denied. When it is granted two years later, the government of his own country appeals it. Only an election, and a change of governmental party, prevents the second appeal from going through, because they drop it. At last, though under tight supervision, a very damaged young man is finally free.
It has been thirteen years since the battle. He is 31 years old.
You’re probably heard his name again in the news recently. Canada’s Supreme Court found that the Canadian government, on helping to obtain his confession and being a party to the horrific events that befell this poor man, had violated his rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which we hold as sacred as America holds its Constitution. They found that Canada had acted against the Geneva Convention and international law. They granted a sum of money to Mr. Khadr for his suffering.
But even after all that, there are those who would deny him even this. People are now trying to demand that they be allowed to sue him for that money that he was awarded as a (lame) apology for taking away the rights that EVERY HUMAN BEING is guaranteed in international law.
To those people I say: Shame on you! Whether he was an “enemy combatant” or not, Omar Khadr has paid more than enough for the crime of throwing a grenade at someone who was trying to kill him. And you conveniently forget, HE WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. He was a CHILD SOLDIER.
We rehabilitate child soldiers. We don’t go on torturing them. And because we have all so terribly failed this Canadian boy, who has become a man in a prison camp because of our callousness and neglect, I believe that anyone who wanted a piece of anything of his has absolutely forfeited the right.
Regardless of what he’s done, he’s one of ours. What he was involved in was horrible; what happened to him proved that the other side wasn’t the “good guys” either.
He says he’s sorry. I believe him.
The Canadian government has said that it is sorry in the only way it can.
Now the rest of you: if you can’t say you’re sorry, as you would if you had even a shred of human decency, then leave him alone and let him get on with what’s left of his life, as best he can.
I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.