The Real Tragedy of Gitmo

By Lithwick, Dahlia | Newsweek, August 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

The Real Tragedy of Gitmo


Lithwick, Dahlia, Newsweek


Byline: Dahlia Lithwick

Why Khadr shouldn't be tried there.

When Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced last fall that he planned to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York, he was met with a firestorm of criticism. Despite the fact that hundreds of terror suspects have been tried and convicted in U.S. courts, Republican opponents spun out a thousand reasons for treating Mohammed differently: his trial would create a target in New York City that would demand millions of dollars in security measures; he would use the proceedings as a means of spreading jihadist propaganda; he shouldn't be entitled to the constitutional rights and protections afforded U.S. citizens. In short, KSM became the poster boy for a man too dangerous for the law. In March the White House indicated that a decision on Mohammed's trial was weeks away. Months later the administration is still mulling.

So instead of subjecting the so-called worst of the worst to a military tribunal, last week the Obama administration fired up the old system in order to try a child soldier. Omar Khadr is everything we shouldn't be trying before a military commission. At 23, he is the youngest detainee of the 176 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. He's been there for eight years. As a Canadian citizen, he is the only Westerner there. Khadr is charged with being an "unlawful enemy combatant" (later changed to "unprivileged enemy belligerent"). At 15, he allegedly threw the grenade that killed Special Forces Sgt. Christopher Speer in Afghanistan. Under international law, children captured in combat are to be treated as victims, not soldiers, and their captors are meant to rehabilitate and repatriate them. Then there's the question of physical abuse: Khadr's attorneys say the prosecutors have relied on confessions extracted after Khadr was coerced, abused, and threatened with gang rape by military interrogators. Last week the military judge in the case decided to allow Khadr's statements to be admitted, and they make up the bulk of the evidence against him.

Nobody disputes that there should be consequences for a teen who throws a grenade on a battlefield. The question is whether a lifetime in prison, after what must have felt like a lifetime at Gitmo, is proper.

Child soldier, Westerner, plus torture. It's why ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner describes the case as "the perfect storm of what's wrong with the military-commission system.

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