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The child soldier and Gitmo's kangaroo court

Mary Shaw

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In October, a U.S. military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay sentenced Omar Khadr to 40 years in prison. A plea deal reduced his sentence to eight years. Under the deal, Khadr pled guilty to five charges, including murder and conspiracy to engage in terrorism.

What sets this apart from other terrorism cases is that Khadr was only 15 years old when he was arrested on an Afghan battlefield. He is also a Canadian citizen.

Because of his young age at the time of his arrest, Khadr has been recognized as a child soldier by the United Nations. As such, international standards prescribe that he be protected and rehabilitated, not prosecuted and abused.

Human Rights First explains: "In 2002, the U.S. ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which prohibits the use of children under 18 in armed conflict and requires signatories to criminalize such conduct and rehabilitate former child soldiers as well as provide 'all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and their social reintegration.' ."

But then, this is America in the age of the "war on terror", where human rights no longer seem to apply.

And the denial of Khadr's rights is nothing new.

Upon his arrival in U.S. custody, Khadr was allegedly subjected to harsh interrogations, beatings, and other ill-treatment. Interrogators allegedly threatened to kill Khadr's family if he didn't cooperate. This is how we treat our children in captivity.

And, despite the fact that confessions and other information obtained under torture and other forms of coercion are known to be unreliable, the judge in the case decided to admit it all into evidence anyway. So the deck was already stacked against Khadr at trial.

Amnesty International had this to say about the outcome: "Plea deals, while doubtless an efficient method for dispensing with cases quickly, do not always represent justice being done. They resemble more closely a high stakes game of poker - the defendant reviews his cards and then decides whether to bet on the hand he has been dealt or cut his losses by folding."

Amnesty continues: "The added twist at the Military Commissions is that the house gets to make the rules and stack the deck. Khadr had already written to Judge Parrish expressing his lack of faith that he could receive a fair trial. It seems that, having studied his cards, he decided to fold after all."

So there you have it: At Guantanamo Bay, "justice" is just a high-stakes poker game for brown-skinned males of all ages. Human rights be damned.

This is what America now stands for. And what George W. Bush began, Barack Obama continues.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

Nov. 8, 2010