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Canadian Bar Association moves to support rights of Khadr

By Kirk Makin | August 11, 2007

CALGARY Lawyers for a Canadian terror suspect imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay Omar Khadr reacted in shocked disbelief Saturday after their call for the Canadian Bar Association to pressure the federal government to help Mr. Khadr drew a standing ovation and a promise of action from CBA president Parker MacCarthy.

The 30-second ovation came after a U.S. military lawyer assigned to represent Mr. Khadr Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler said it is inexplicable that Canada has stood by silently while a citizen whose alleged crime was committed while he was still "a child" is being systematically railroaded by a lawless regime.

Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler said the CBA ought to condemn the Harper government for leaping to oppose the use of child soldiers in countries such as Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka, yet hypocritically permitting the U.S. to have free rein over a 15-year-old boy who was present in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan only because his father had recruited him to the cause.

Minutes later, Mr. MacCarthy told a press conference that the lack of proper legal protections for Mr. Khadr is "a travesty of justice."

Mr. MacCarthy said he intends to register the CBA's disapproval of Mr. Khadr's treatment quickly.

"I don't want the leave the impression that the CBA will be sitting on its hands for the next six months," Mr. MacCarthy said. "I don't think the Canadian Bar Association has ever shied away from controversy. We are not a shy, retiring organization. The CBA has a huge amount of credibility nationally and internationally.

"I'm persuaded from what I heard (the standing ovation) that not just the CBA, but all Canadians should speak out to end this horrendous lack of due process."

Visibly delighted by the unexpected chain of events in the five-year-old case, Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler and two other lawyers fighting for Mr. Khadr Dennis Edney and Lorne Waldman said that today could represent the turning point in one of the most abysmal chapters in recent Canadian legal history.

Mr. Edney said that when he saw Mr. Khadr recently, his client was so mentally debilitated that he wanted nothing more than crayons and some paper to colour on. Contrary to federal government assurances that Mr. Khadr is doing just fine, Mr. Edney said, his client is actually "ill and going blind. He needs all sorts of help."

He added that when he spoke to Mr. Khadr about the unfairness of incarceration, his client said: "Canada doesn't care."

"I'm going to take him back the message that the Canadian Bar Association today, in giving a standing ovation, said that we believe in the rule of law and in protecting the vulnerable in our society," Mr. Edney told reporters.

In another dramatic development, Mr. Edney also revealed that the small plane he was travelling back on from Guantanamo last June was diverted to Florida. He said that he was intimidated for several hours by U.S. military "goons," who warned Mr. Edney that he could be imprisoned for decades if he revealed "classified information" such as whether Mr. Khadr had a cold.

Mr. Edney said they examined confidential material on his laptop and looked through his briefcase and wallet. He said that the entire incident was terrifying.

"I felt very vulnerable, and I continue to. I have real concerns. I want to be protected."

Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler told reporters that if Canada has any chance of influencing Mr. Khadr's upcoming murder trial, the federal government has to act with all speed. "Six months from now, Omar Khadr will likely have been convicted by a military commission," he said.

"Once we get into that, he'll get life and that's real life," Mr. Edney added.

In his speech to the convention, Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler said that Australia and the U.K. have successfully had their own nationals returned to their jurisdiction from Guantanamo as a result of their protesting the lack of due process under the military commission set-up. Yet, he said, the Canadian government has repeatedly expressed its belief that Mr. Khadr will be well-treated.

"It is unprecedented to try a child for war crimes," Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler said.

He said that while it is deplorable that the government has not been pressured over the past five years by powerful organizations such as the CBA, "I don't want to dwell on the past or engage in recriminations.

"What needs to be done now is to take stock of where we are. I think Canadians have given the U.S. the benefit of the doubt the government has, and the Canadian Bar Association but the time has come to say that enough is enough."

Several months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key aspects of the military commissions under which foreign nationals as Mr. Khadr can be denied the details and the source of evidence obtained against them under torture.

However, Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler said today that a reconstituted version of the military commission structure is as bad, or worse, than the original.

Mr. Waldman told the press conference that his best theory to explain Canadian complacency on the Khadr situation is that Mr. Khadr's family has become notorious for their links to al-Qaeda and their support of its terrorism. Terming the response to their infamy, "the Khadr effect,' he said it had led citizens, the media and the government to shy away from opposing the way Omar Khadr is being treated in captivity.

"When it is a Canadian who is detained as a child solder, we look the other way," he said. "Why do we have this double-standard?"

Only a small fraction of the CBA delegates present at today's speech by Lt.-Cdr. Kuebler remained in their seats during the ovation he drew after stating: "We think it's time for this group to call for Omar to be returned; to say that it is simply not acceptable to have him subjected to these kind of conditions."

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