It was a controversial moment on Friday as federal government officials offered an apology and cash settlement to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who had been imprisoned following a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002.
The statement and payment have left many Canadians feeling uncomfortable or angry.
Khadr, 15 years old at the time, was alleged to have thrown the grenade which resulted in the death of U.S. medic Sgt. Christopher Speer.
As a result, Khadr was arrested and for nearly 10 years, he was imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was the youngest person and the first Westerner to be held by the Americans at that facility.
Questions have been raised about why the Canadian government did not act more quickly or work harder to have Khadr extradited to Canada to face trial in this country.
Khadr has said he was tortured during his imprisonment. The apology and payment were given as a result of the treatment he received while he was imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.
“On behalf of the government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Khadr for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to his ordeal abroad and any resulting harm,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in the carefully worded statement.
Khadr has also received financial compensation. The payment is reportedly $10.5 million, although the terms are officially confidential.
The apology and the payment have both been criticized by those who believe Khadr is a terrorist and as such should have received nothing.
But others believe Khadr should be seen as a victim. At the time of the incident, and at the time he entered the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, he would have been considered a young offender under Canadian law.
In October, 2010, after eight years of imprisonment, Khadr pleaded guilty to murder and other war crimes. He later said the plea was an attempt to end the torture he was experiencing.
There is also some question as to whether he threw the grenade which killed Speer.
Judging by the comments I have read and heard, Canadians are divided on whether Khadr was a terrorist or a child soldier who was a victim of a terrorist organization.
But the apology on Friday isn’t about Khadr’s guilt or innocence. It is about the treatment a Canadian citizen received while he was imprisoned.
A unanimous Supreme Court of Canada ruling from Jan. 29, 2010, stated that Khadr’s rights as a Canadian were violated during his time in the Guantanamo Bay facility.
“The interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing that the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects,” the court decision stated.
An apology is an expression of regret and remorse, an admission that a wrong has been done to another person. Offering an apology has nothing to do with whether the recipient is considered a good person or a bad person.
The federal government’s apology on Friday isn’t about Khadr’s guilt or innocence. Instead, it is nothing more or less than an admission that a Canadian citizen was mistreated.
As to the question of whether the accompanying financial compensation was too high or too low, or whether anything should have been given, that is a topic for a separate discussion.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.