America and Obama Hit Bottom: Pressuring Child Soldier to Plead Guilty to Murder Violates International Law and Basic Common Decency

As the author of The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), I never thought in my lifetime that I would see a president reach the depth of moral decay and depravity of President George W. Bush, but sad to say, our current president, Barack Obama, has managed to do it, and what makes it worse, as a former Constitutional law professor, he knows better.

This president’s moral nadir was hit yesterday, when he allowed a military tribunal based at Guantanamo to pressure Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured, gravely wounded, and arrested at the age of 15 in Afghanistan, and held at at Guantanamo now for nine years, to plead guilty to murder.

Khadr’s crime? He was in a house that was struck by a US air strike and then raided by US special forces during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. The gravely wounded Khadr was accused of tossing a grenade at advancing US troops, which killed US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, and caused another soldier to lose an eye.

Omar Khadr at age 15, the time of his capture by US forcesOmar Khadr at age 15, the time of his capture by US forces

Although Khadr, after nine years of harsh confinement at Guantanamo, and facing a military tribunal, has pleaded guilty in a plea bargain, after insisting for nine years that he did not throw the grenade (there is no living witness to his having done so), one issue here is that even if he did toss it, that action would have been seen as that heroic act of a gravely-wounded young fighter facing a superior enemy force, but for the fact that the US is claiming Khadr was not a legitimate soldier, but rather a “terrorist.”

This is a rather spurious claim, since the US says it went to “war” in Afghanistan to go after Al Qaeda forces there, who had been set up with CIA assistance initially to help the Mujahadeen fight the Soviet occupiers. So the force that Khadr was supposedly fighting with was a legitimate fighting force once, but became not a fighting force when the enemy was the US. Clearly, such fine distinctions would have meant nothing to a 15-year-old boy who had been “drafted” into the war at 14 by his Al Qaeda-member father, who was later killed by US fire. Note too that the US can say its soldiers, who have been killing a prodigious number of civilians in Afghanistan, cannot be charged with murder or manslaughter because they are soldiers, but the enemy they are fighting can be charged with murder if they fight back, because they are supposedly not legitimate soldiers.

But Alice-in-Wonderland semantic games aside, in any case, the biggest outrage in this case is that Khadr was 15 when he was captured. Under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that was signed by the US and that is thus part of US law, all children under the age of 18 captured while fighting in wars are to be offered “special protection” and treated as victims, not as combatants.

The “special treatment” afforded to Khadr after his capture, however, was to be tortured, as has been recounted even by US military witnesses, who have described his being chained with his arms above his head, despite being seriously wounded, threatened with rape, interrogated only hours after being operated on for his wounds, kept in solitary confinement, and so on.

This is simply a disgusting case that offends any sense of decency, and makes both America and this president look no better than Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

When Barack Obama was running for president, he vowed to shut down the concentration camp at Guantanamo. He has not done that. He said, furthermore, that the very existence of that facility was harming America’s image around the world. He was absolutely correct.

How outrageous then that he not only left the offshore prison in place but that for the first test of his new supposedly “fair” military tribunal process, he allowed the military prosecutors to choose the now 24-year-old Khadr.

Khadr should have been immediately released and repatriated to his native Canada when the president took office. Instead he now faces more time imprisoned at Guantanamo (he may eventually be released to Canadian authorities under the terms of his plea agreement, which has not been disclosed yet, but would face at least another year in Guantanamo’s hell).

There is no good way to spin this atrocity. President Obama now stands guilty of a war crime–the abuse of a child soldier. Khadr’s initial arrest and torture happened on Bush’s watch, but of course, as with the rest of the torture that occurred during the Bush/Cheney years, President Obama has done nothing to prosecute the criminals who engaged in it or ordered it, or allowed it to happen. That dereliction of duty in itself by the current commander in chief, under the Geneva Conventions, is a war crime.

But all legal arguments aside, it is simply an abomination that this president has allowed the Pentagon to prosecute and force an admission of “guilt” from a child soldier who has literally grown up in the hellish environs of Guantanamo’s concentration camp.

The guilty plea is a bad joke, designed to put lipstick on the ugly pig that is the president’s war tribunal policy. As Khadr’s attorney said, “There’s not much choice. He either pleads guilty to avoid trial, or he goes to trial (in a military tribunal where the jury is composed of US military officers), and the trial is an unfair process.” Military tribunals, significantly, allow testimony that has been obtained through torture, while such evidence is inadmissible in any American court of law.

When I wrote The Case for Impeachment, I warned that if Congress did not impeach the president and vice president for their myriad crimes, including massive serial violations of the Geneva Conventions, any future president would feel completely free to continue committing those crimes.

In the Khadr case, we see that very thing happening.

Our leaders, from the president on down, are moral reprobates and war criminals, and as we Americans allow this kind of grotesque violation of our fundamental principals to occur without protest, we become no different from or better than the Germans of World War II.