Aditi Gupta

You Don’t Like the Truth

on 29 March 2012

Last week the UK Human Rights Watch Film Festival showcased the harrowing film ‘You Don’t Like the Truth’, documenting the four day interrogation of child prisoner and Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr, in a dark, windowless cell at Guantánamo in 2003. At the age of 15, Omar was captured in Afghanistan after a four-hour fire-fight in which he was wounded. He was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier. He is now 24 and has spent over a third of his life imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

This powerful film features excerpts from seven hours of the prison’s CCTV video footage of Canadian agents interrogating Omar. It reveals in excruciating clarity how his joy at meeting representatives of his own government turned to despair when he realized that they had not come to Guantánamo to help him. Commentary on the footage is provided by Khadr’s US and Canadian lawyers, journalist Michelle Shephard, former US guard Damien Corsetti, and former prisoners, including Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg. The footage was released by the Canadian courts after a ruling that Khadr’s rights had been violated, which was subsequently ignored by the Canadian government.

The screening of this film provides a harsh reminder that, despite the US and Canadian Governments being obliged to rehabilitate Omar under the terms of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, Omar is not only still incarcerated in Guantánamo, but was subject to horrific torture and illegal interrogation. In a poignant scene in the documentary, Omar repeatedly sobs 'you don't care about me' as he complains about his medical treatment. His civilian lawyer Dennis Edney sums up the injustice of Khadr's treatment: “If you can't protect the most vulnerable in society – which are children – then what is it that you do stand for?”

Omar Khadr is a contentious political subject for both the US and Canadian Governments. Portrayed as the son of a terrorist who socialised with Bin Laden and killed a US soldier, Omar has been vilified by the Conservative support base of Canada’s Harper Government. Seeing that he had no support from the country of his citizenship, Omar agreed to plead guilty in what Andy Worthington deemed a ‘show-trial’ of a case before a military commission 17 months ago. The terms of his plea deal strongly indicated that after November 2011 he would be transferred to his native Canada to serve the remainder of his sentence. However, that date has come and gone, and Omar remains at Guantánamo Bay.

His limbo status is largely the result of bureaucratic delays in processing his application to transfer, especially within the Canadian government. All that remains is for Defence Secretary, Leon E. Panetta, to sign the final paperwork and give Congress a legally mandated 30-day notice of a pending transfer. However, before he can sign those papers, the Canadian minister of public safety, Vic Toews, must formally ask for Mr. Khadr. Despite the diplomatic note, he has not done so. “He’s ready to go home,” said Lt. Col. Jon Jackson of the Army, Mr. Khadr’s military lawyer. “He’s upheld his end of the bargain.”

Whether Omar was responsible or not, the essential fact conveyed powerfully by ‘You Don’t Like the Truth’ is this: Omar Khadr was 15 years old when he was captured, a child soldier. His was the first instance in modern history of a government prosecuting a former child soldier for war crimes and in the six years before that military trial, he was subjected to torture in Bagram and Guantánamo. He was essentially robbed of his right to be rehabilitated and instead has been forsaken in Guantánamo.

Omar’s only comment on his view of child soldiers is taken from a series of letters he exchanged with a Canadian English Professor, Arnette Zinck. In the following quote, he is conveying his views about the book, ‘A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a Boy Soldier’ by Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone. His observation is not directed at the injustice he has personally been subjected to, but eloquently describes the fundamental innocence of all children caught up in conflict:

“Children’s hearts are like a sponge that will absorb what is around it, like wet cement, soft until it is sculptured in a certain way. A child’s soul is a sacred dough that must be shaped in a holy way.”

In the words of Dennis Edney: "We have over 1,200 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. We have a 15 year-old boy paying for that."

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