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Harper to Canada: “Stand up for torture!”

“Stand up for Canada” was the slogan that Stephen Harper took to the polls in 2006.

“Stand up for Canada” was the slogan that Stephen Harper took to the polls in 2006. When the next election rolls around, he’ll have a quite different one: “Stand up for torture!”

By now people are well aware of the events surrounding Omar Khadr, the Toronto-born teenager who’s been awaiting trial at Guantanamo Bay (“Gitmo”) since he was 15.

The official story goes something like this: Jihadist kid goes to terrorist training camp. Jihadist kid throws grenade. Jihadist kid kills medic. Jihadist kid lawfully imprisoned. Jihadist kid facing “judicial process that should continue.”

I’ve spoken to Khadr’s lawyers on numerous occasions. I’ve a done a number of stories about the case. And I can say, unequivocally, that this kid should be brought back to Canada – not necessarily because I believe he’s innocent, but because I can’t stand by and allow a fellow Canadian (in his early 20s now) be subjected to an illegal, Kafkaesque judicial process.

The legislation that governs justice at Guantanamo Bay is called the Military Commissions Act. It’s a novel interpretation of the laws of war that has somehow passed into U.S. law. It establishes a special tribunal at the prison that plays by its own rules without much regard for international law, the law of war, or even really the rule of law to begin with.

For one thing, it denies the rights of detainees to petition a judiciary for a writ of habeas corpus . Such a writ allows prisoners to challenge the bases of their imprisonment and thus protect against arbitrary state action. Detainees like Khadr don’t have this right.

There have been instances in history when habeas corpus has been taken away from Canadians. The October Crisis of 1970 was one of those times – Pierre Trudeau’s War Measures Act waived that right, essentially allowing police to arbitrarily arrest and hold people indefinitely, but it’s a way of life for citizens of Guantanamo Bay.

Beyond that, there’s a queue of other legal travesties that permeate the Military Commissions Act. Section 948 of the act, for example, defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as anyone who fights back against United States forces and doesn’t wear a uniform to show who you are. Anyone who does fight back is guilty of a war crime.

Say the United States Army came over the mountains and staged an invasion of Whistler Village. You’d be guilty of a war crime for fighting back if you didn’t wear any insignia to show who you are. Lord help you if you use a grenade.

Then there’s the liberties the act takes with evidence. In a trial at Guantanamo Bay, hearsay can be admitted as evidence. If I were to go to trial there, a prosecutor could land a huge blow against my reputation if he told the court from hearsay that I skinned kangaroos in my spare time.

Appalling as these laws are, that’s nothing beside the allegations of torture that have been levelled against the guards holding Khadr — allegations that include chaining him to the floor in a fetal position, depriving him of sleep for weeks and dragging him along the floor of an interrogation room to wipe up his own urine.

Each time Stephen Harper says he won’t bring Khadr back to Canada, he legitimizes all of these things. His spokesman continues to say, “There is a judicial process underway to determine Mr. Khadr's fate. This should continue.”

Why, you might ask, should Pique readers care? It’s very simple – many of you could make a difference.

Pemberton residents have Chuck Strahl for an MP. He’s an earnest, intelligent, sincere parliamentarian who also happens to be one of the most influential members of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. It was his lobbying that helped convince the Prime Minister to make a formal apology for the residential school policy. Though he didn’t do that alone, he certainly has his leader’s ear.

I’m not about to tell Pemberton residents what they should or shouldn’t do. But I will say that the people in that community are uniquely placed to make a difference on this issue.

Canada is the only western power that has not repatriated its citizens from Guantanamo Bay. Even John Howard, the neocon former Prime Minister of Australia, repatriated Gitmo detainee David Hicks, a kangaroo skinner who was charged with providing material support for terrorism. Today he walks a free man.

Something has to be done for Khadr. And frankly, with Chuck Strahl as an MP to talk to about this case, Pemberton residents are in the best place to do it.