The feel good read of the summer

The Security Intelligence Review Committee released its report into CSIS’s handling of Omar Khadr last week, the full text is here. Strangely, despite the PMO’s assurances that the United States did not participate in torture and the Prime Minister’s findings that Khadr did not qualify as a child soldier, the SIRC seems rather preoccupied with issues of human rights, mistreatment and age.

International criticism over US treatment of detainees caught in the “war on terror” began to emerge shortly following the US invasion of Afghanistan. For example, in April 2002, Amnesty International published a Memorandum to the US Government on the Rights of People in US Custody in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay reporting allegations by several individuals relating to their treatment by US soldiers after being taken into custody in Afghanistan in late 2001 and 2002. This ill-treatment included beatings, being immobilized or tightly bound, being threatened by death and torture, and being restrained in small spaces.37 In the summer of 2002, the international media published reports of alleged torture and sexual abuse in a jail near a military base in southern Afghanistan.38

Meanwhile, the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay opened its door amidst controversy. In November 2001, the US government issued a Presidential Executive Order that authorized the indefinite detention of foreign nationals at Guantanamo Bay, revoking prisoners’ right to legal counselor to challenge their detention in federal courts. The government’s position came under heavy international criticism, as many countries denounced the US’s legal treatment of detainees. In January 2003, Human Rights Watch made public its annual report criticizing the US for failing to consider human rights in its fight against terrorism, namely in refusing to apply the Geneva Conventions to prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay.39

The criticism of Guantanamo Bay detainees’ legal status was accompanied by criticism over the US’s treatment of detainees in the detention facility. In early 2002, an international outcry erupted following publication of an official Pentagon photograph showing a group of detainees in a holding area kneeling in orange jumpsuits with their hands chained behind their backs. In response, the US Defense Secretary said that the treatment of detainees was proper, humane, appropriate and fully consistent with international conventions.40 But criticism of US treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay continued unabated in ensuing months. As the US’s interrogation techniques came under attack, the US military defended its practices saying the questioning that went on in the detention facility was within the bounds of normal legal procedures in effect in the US.41

SIRC notes that there was widespread media reporting on allegations of mistreatment and abuse of detainees in US custody in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay prior to CSIS … interviewing him at Guantanamo Bay

SIRC also inquired into CSIS’s response to the allegations made by Khadr during the Service’s interview that he had been “treated very badly” by the Americans and that everything he had told previous interrogators was a lie forced out of him by mistreatment. SIRC was told that in reaction to these allegations, the CSIS interviewer tried to calm Khadr down so that he would not incriminate or embarrass himself. The interviewer felt it was obvious that Khadr had been trying to work himself up before the interview and that his behavior was not genuine.45 In his report, the interviewer speculated that Khadr “had a large attack of guilt about the information he was disclosing on his father, and or, when he was returned to his cell he was spoken to by older more senior detainees who had disciplined him.”46

In light of public allegations of mistreatment of detainees, SIRC believes that CSIS failed to give full consideration to Khadr’s possible mistreatment by US authorities before deciding to interact with them on this matter

The rights of children are also reflected in international conventions to which Canada is party. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment” and that “the arrest, detention and imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law.” Moreover, the child has the right to challenge the legality of his detention “before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority” in the presence of legal or other appropriate assistance.55 The conditions of Khadr’s detention at Guantanamo Bay, such as the refusal to grant any of the detainees prisoner of war status, to have any disputed status determined by a competent tribunal as required under the Geneva Convention, or to have access to legal counsel, did not meet these international standards…

SIRC believes that CSIS failed to take into account that while in US custody, Khadr had been denied certain basic rights which would have been afforded to him as a youth. As well, prior to his interview with the Service, Khadr had received no guidance or assistance from any adult who had his best interests in mind since he had been kept incommunicado and been denied access to legal counsel, consular representation or family members.

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