BASS: Khadr was a child whose childhood was denied him
“In the technical sense of the word.”
Only Vic Toews could defy fact by uttering those seven words.
In the mind of our country’s public-safety minister, Omar Khadr was technically not a child soldier when, as a child, he was involved in the war in Afghanistan and killed Christopher Spear, a 28-year-old U.S. army medic.
Technically, Omar was a child.
Technically, he committed the act of a soldier.
Seems to make perfect sense to me but, in this case, hindsight isn’t 20/20. It instead gives Toews and Layne Morris, another American soldier who is speaking out about Khadr, some sort of deluded idea the boy was acting of his own free will.
The two of them need to do some basic research, starting with a study done by doctors at Boston’s Children’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.
The physicians have been studying the adolescent brain and their observations have been succinctly put this way: “The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” one of the doctors said.
“It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”
Studies have shown the adolescent brain develops slowly with the frontal lobe — that’s the part that controls reasoning, planning and judgment — not fully developing until about age 25.
Omar didn’t hit 25 until last year and by then, had been held for eight years in the abomination that is the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba.
The teenaged brain is also influenced by its environment, researchers have discovered — a fact they could have figured out by just asking almost any parent.
Consider the environment in which Omar grew up, with a father who was closely tied to the mujahideen and the top echelon of al-Qaeda.
Nine years ago, Ahmed Khadr took his family from their home in Canada back to Pakistan, where he went back to work at an NGO — but where his co-workers discovered the man who once was seen as a humanitarian had become a fervent Muslim who believed in martyrdom.
Now, imagine growing up in that environment, with a brain still developing, still mightily influenced by everything going on around it.
Think of it as a variation of Stockholm Syndrome.
The children in that family were subjected to a specific lifestyle and beliefs constantly.
It had to affect them.
So, for Morris to talk about how Omar had an hour — one entire hour between entering the conflict area and throwing the IED that killed Speer — to come to his sense would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
One hour can’t undo 15 years of indoctrination.
And, let’s not forget the “trial” where Omar was supposedly convicted, a military tribunal later ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court to have been illegal.
That led to another trial by a U.S. military commission — the legitimacy of which was thrown into question when Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden’s driver also convicted of crimes by a commission, saw his conviction overturned and the legitimacy of the commission questioned by the Supreme Court.
This is not to say Omar should have been spared accountability for the life he took.
Justice can and does every day deal with child criminals, recognizing the fact that, while they have done some heinous things, they are still children and, if we believe the underpinining of our legal system, they can be rehabilitated.
The sad part of this column, however, is that, while arguing Omar was a child in age, in body and in brain function when he killed Speer, that very childhood that is the crux of the viewpoint was denied him as he sat for years in Guantanamo.