It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was captured by American forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and has been locked up at Guantanamo Bay ever since. Omar made the news this week because his Canadian lawyers released some grainy video excerpts from his interrogation at Guantanamo by visiting CSIS officials. So far I’ve only found time to view the first one, which can be seen here.
Omar, now 21, was 16 when the video was taken, and much of the conversation will probably sound familiar to anyone who’s ever heard a frustrated adult reasoning with a sullen teenager. A male interrogator says banal things like “your feet are still at the end of your legs” and “you want a chocolate bar or something?” Meanwhile, Omar bitterly accuses the interrogator of not caring about him. At one point, however, Omar’s distress comes through. He buries his face in his hands and repeatedly moans what has been variously interpreted as “Kill me!”, “Help me!”, or the Arabic “Ya ummi!” ["Oh, mother!"]. All three are poignant in their very different ways.
What was Omar so upset about? Plausible answers can be found in a Rolling Stone piece describing his relentless interrogations at the hands of the Americans. For instance:
An hour or two later they came back, checked the tautness of his chains and pushed him over on his stomach. Transfixed in his bonds, Omar toppled like a figurine. Again they left… He urinated on himself and on the floor. The MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body. Without altering his chains, they began dragging him by his feet through the mixture of urine and pine oil.
Subjecting a teenager to such discomfort and degradation, with little prospect of obtaining useful intelligence, seems wildly disproportionate. And the cruelty apparently continued, not for months but for YEARS.
We shouldn’t forget that Omar was in the ranks of our Taliban enemies, and I think reasonable people can disagree on whether our government should try to get him out of “Gitmo” and bring him to Canada. However, the CSIS interrogation shown in the video brings our country awfully close to active complicity in his mistreatment. It’s time to stop and ask ourselves how far we really want to march alongside America in this “war on terror” nonsense.