|Victor's justice makes fools of us all|
In 1746, immediately following the Battle of Culloden, the victorious English soldiers paraded a handful of vanquished Scottish prisoners before their commanders.
It was decreed that the penalty for taking up arms against the King of England was death. It mattered not a whit that, during the battle, the fierce Highlanders had believed themselves to be fighting on behalf of their own proclaimed King of Scotland.
When one of the Scottish captives protested that, as a bagpiper, he had not, in fact, taken up arms against anyone, the English execution squad faced a dilemma. This was quickly resolved with a declaration that, because of its inspirational qualities, the bagpipe was indeed a weapon. Case closed, and the hapless piper was put to the sword.
As absurd as this may seem in historical perspective, victor’s justice is nothing new in warfare, and the Omar Khadr case is just the most recent glaring example of the double standard we invoke upon defeated captives.
His sudden confession to having committed war crimes—after eight years of denial—once again propelled boy-soldier Khadr into the public spotlight this fall. The US military prosecutor beat his chest and proclaimed that with Khadr’s admission of guilt, all doubt could now be removed from the legal process which brought the charges against him.
The usual suspects among Canadian pundits also took up Khadr’s confession like a cudgel to beat upon any of those in the media who have ever shown the slightest empathy for Khadr.
So let’s step back and take a look at the details surrounding Khadr’s reversal of his not-guilty plea.
Captured on July 27, 2002 at the age of just 15, Khadr has spent the last eight years incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. Of the 700 accused inmates at Gitmo who have been processed by a US military tribunal, there has been not a single acquittal.
By accepting a plea bargain, Khadr, now 23, will be looking at the possibility of obtaining his freedom before his 30th birthday. Without the guilty plea, Khadr likely faced an eventual conviction and subsequent life sentence. Not exactly a tough choice.
To put his “confession” in context, just imagine if this case was being handled by a different country rather than the US—say Syria or Iran.
If they imprisoned a 15-year-old boy for eight years in a Gitmo-like facility, and then offered the same choice of continued lifetime incarceration or a reduced sentence in exchange for a confession, we would fall out of our La-Z-Boys with laughter when the Iranian prosecutor informed us that this was proof of a functioning justice system. But I digress.
The details of Khadr’s alleged war crimes that were once again presented at his sentencing hearing certainly do not justify the magnitude of the charges.
During the incident in question, Khadr and three fellow Afghan insurgents had been surrounded by a combined force of US and Afghan National Army troops in a remote village.
During the furious firefight that ensued, all of Khadr’s companions were killed and Khadr himself suffered a bullet wound so large that, according to one US eyewitness, “you could fit a can of Copenhagen [chewing tobacco] inside his chest.”
In his “confession,” Khadr admitted to throwing a grenade during the skirmish and the resulting explosion killed Sergeant Christopher Speer. At the sentencing hearing the court was told by the prosecutor that when Khadr threw the grenade, “it was his intention to kill as many Americans as possible.”
When such a statement is heard in isolation, it certainly makes Khadr sound like one hateful monster. However, when you realize that, at the time, his comrades were dead or dying beside him, the bullets were flying and combat raging, you can bet that Khadr’s intention was to kill at least those Americans who were shooting at him. That is war.
Sergeant Speer’s widow was also allowed to give a victim’s impact statement, in which she described Khadr as nothing more than a murderer.
There is no question that the death of Speer left a tremendous impact on the lives of his widow and family—but he was a soldier, armed and engaged in combat at the time of his death. Khadr did not climb in a hotel window and kill Speer as he slept peacefully.
In one incident in Kandahar City, Canadian soldiers opened fire on a taxi they suspected was attempting a suicide attack. When the dust settled, it was discovered that two young
Afghan children had been killed and that the taxi did not contain any weapons.
After a thorough review of the incident, the Canadian military cleared those soldiers involved because they had properly followed the rules of engagement. We were told that
Afghanistan is a dangerous place, and therefore our soldiers have the right to use deadly force, even if the threat is only a perceived threat.
To hypocritically label Khadr’s actions in a combat situation to be a war crime not only diminishes the very term, it is also a flagrant abuse of victor’s justice.
And this just in…we haven’t won yet.