Can we give a child soldier a second chance?


In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.


7 thoughts on “Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

  1. You want to give the jihadi vermin another chance? Fine; that’s up to you. I, on the other hand, think it should have been exterminated while in US custody as opposed to handing it over to your people and your weak, pro-criminal – and now pro-Jihadi – legal system.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. Omar Khadr is not “vermin”; he is a human being, and when he committed his crimes he was an abused and brainwashed teenager. He has expressed a wish to rehabilitate and help others considering the path he took to turn away from it. A person with a desire to reform after having paid a heavy price for his crimes should not be thrown aside like trash. Furthermore, did you read his bail conditions? He’s not going to have much a of a chance to cause trouble even if he intends to try!

      The problem of young, stupid jihadis isn’t going away – it’s growing. And a number of them are Canadian – AND AMERICAN – citizens, and therefore our problem. We need a more intelligent and effective strategy than simply “kill ’em all”.

      • I staunchly disagree, both to Khadr ‘s humanity – it abrogated that – and to the lack of intelligence in the “kill ’em all” solution.

        Killing jihadis and other extremist or problematical Muslims, along with rounding up their kin, is the most intelligent solution to what is a global problem of Muslim aggression.

        Personally, I don’t think the criminal system is the way to handle them. It should, IMHO, be handled as a military / intel operation, with all aggressors eliminated in the most efficient manner possible and those who lend them aid and comfort dealt with as traitors.

        That’s me though. You’re entitled to your own opinion on the matter until such time as the measures I hope for are enacted.

        Of course, I’ve had to deal with them and kill amongst them on three continents so my opinion of them is bound to be a bit different than yours.

        • Thank you for expanding on your views, and for giving me your take based on your experiences. Respectfully, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I hope, for both of our sakes, that what I’ve written turns out to be what actually happens. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

          • I can’t share the same hope because I truly don’t believe that what you wish for is beneficial. That being said, I do wish the underlying situation was vastly different and that you, as well, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  2. Sweet, Bethchepita. At least you have an open mind; it allows for fair and honest reflection on your beliefs and to be able to assess and adapt to more information. I gave your post only a good rating because of what I just said. Sadly that is not true of everyone (most unfortunate). Most people I have met that are over-zealous and arrogant generally only lead with their ignorance and are also genuinely proud of that. We can take this further only you wish and I will give you some food for thought. The whole of the western media is fundamentally corrupt, their own greed and selfishness has made it easy to ignore the 2 bottom line principles their craft is based on (1) ethical responsibility & (2) journalistic integrity. So what ever you think you know because of the news is just wrong… well except maybe for those cute cat stories. The evidence shows that Omar was down and buried in rubble before the firefight, that compound was bombed ahead of the ground troops entering the fight (the US Military is incapable of fighting an anti-insurgency war so they bomb the hell out of everything 1st). I can’t recall the Repub Senator that said it but their philosophy is, “its better to kill 100 of them to get 3 targets then it is to lose 1 of our soldiers” your other commenter made that clear. I have an article that has been buried w/ documents and photos supporting my assertion.

    The second piece of tantalizing information is even more cool and directly indicts the whole of the western media anyone who uses jihad, Muslim and Islam in the same breath as terrorists, extremists and radicals are the pawns the US State Department is using to create the polarization between Islam and the West, they want to establish a bitter hot-point, using the media as its distribution hub, clearly it is working. According to the CIA, MI5, 3- Asian reporting and education centers, The RCMP & Canadian Military Intelligence there are roughly 300,000 terrorists, extremists and radicals with just over 1B Muslims in the world that is roughly .3% (yes that is _point 3 %) of the total Muslim population yet they get 95% of all the news involving Islam. Hmm kinda suspicous eh! What is also not discussed is how much “true” Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are alike. Actually okay the only real difference is Judaism and Islam view Jesus merely as a Prophet and just a simple man very blessed by God (Allah in Arabic) Whereas Christ.ians view him as their Saviour and a part of God. Hence

    Sorry about how long winded this was BUT, it is only a very small offering … Have fun

    • Don’t apologise for long-windedness; I actually like that! It shows that you’ve been thinking about it and you have alot to say on the subject …. 🙂 Thank you for reading, and commenting.

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