Guantánamo Bay detention camp, also called Gitmo, is the now infamous U.S. detention facility on the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in southeastern Cuba. Gitmo is most well known for having housed Muslim militants and suspected terrorists captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. The facility became the focus of worldwide controversy over alleged violations of the legal rights of detainees under the Geneva Conventions and accusations of torture or abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. authorities.
In early 2002 the camp began receiving suspected members of al-Qaeda and fighters for the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist faction that had ruled Afghanistan and harboured al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers. Eventually – and not unexpectedly - hundreds of prisoners from several countries were held at the camp without charge and without the legal means to challenge their detentions. The Bush administration maintained that it was neither obliged to grant basic constitutional protections to the prisoners, since the base was outside U.S. territory, nor required to observe the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians during wartime, as the conventions did not apply to “unlawful enemy combatants”. In a word: outrageous, but given the fear of the time, highly accepted by many.
In 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the system of military commissions that was to be used to try selected prisoners held at Guantánamo was in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The legality of the commissions was restored in 2006 by the Military Commission Act, which also denied the federal courts jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions on behalf of foreign detainees. In 2008, however, the court overturned the latter provision by ruling that foreign detainees did have the right to challenge their detentions in the federal courts. It should have spelled the end for Gitmo, but despite the court’s decision, several prisoners who had been cleared for release in other countries or for transfer to their home countries continued to be detained, either because no country would accept them or because their home countries were deemed too volatile to guarantee their secure imprisonment.
Which brings me to GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR. Khadr is a Canadian who was detained at Guantanamo Bay as a minor and held there for 10 years. He was imprisoned for allegedly throwing a grenade during a firefight that resulted in the death of an American soldier. At the time, he was 15 years old and had been brought to Afghanistan by his father, who was affiliated with an extreme religious group. During the conflict, Khadr was badly wounded, and captured by the US. After being detained at Bagram, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay.
Khadr is reportedly the first person since WW2 to be prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile. Outrageously, he is not only the youngest person ever convicted of a war crime in modern history, he is also the only person ever charged with "murder in violation of the laws of war" – despite the fact that hundreds have died in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and despite the fact it was never a war crime to kill a soldier in conflict until the US rewrote the laws of war after 9/11.
It is very likely years from now that the US courts will overturn his Guantanamo conviction, and after being released on bail on May 7, 2015 he is appealing his conviction. Just over a year after his release from prison, is engaged to be married to a human rights activist who helped fight for his release and is clearly living a life quite different from that on the “inside”. His happiness is palpable, and that is what leads me to agree with reviewers who have said the reasons the well-crafted documentary angers you will depend on your point of view.
Some will find it sickening that a terrorist, convicted of murder, now walks free in Canada. Others will be horrified by the tales of torture that Khadr went through as a teenager at Guantanamo. “Some people say, ‘he seems so composed, relaxed, convincing and credible, and this really brought me closer to him’,” says Patrick Reed, who co-directed the film with Michelle Shephard. “Others say, ‘he’s composed, relaxed and comfortable and the guy’s obviously the master manipulator’.
“The point of the film was to allow him to speak, for people to see him and to allow a dialogue about the issue. But it wasn’t necessarily to have everyone have the same opinion about him, because I don’t think even Michelle and I have the same opinion about him.”
In other words, one hell of a watch and riveting viewing. Stake your claim in front of the TV now.
GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR premiering Thursday 14th July at 8.30pm Rialto Channel 39.