The cases of Omar Khadr and Bradley Manning
|Saturday, August 14,2010 16:48|
Omar Khadr – child prisoner
Omar Khadr was taken prisoner in 2002. The United States claimed he was a member of Al-Qaeda and said he met Osama bin Laden when he was 10. This made him an "intelligence treasure trove". Al-Qaeda obliged the US by describing Omar as a "lion cub" defender of the faith. In truth, neither claim is real evidence of any definite organizational connection. The number of distinct resistance groups in Afghanistan runs into the dozens and Al-Qaeda will breezily claim every one of them. According to General James Jones, who served as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, the number of actual Al-Qaeda operatives at any one time in Afghanistan is under 100 individuals. The assertion that 15-year-old Omar was one them is problematic. But it was enough for the American government that he was with the resistance. Having complete power over both him and his media image, he could be made into anything the American government wanted. For instance, he is accused of throwing a grenade at American troops despite the fact that the reports of the 2002 action are confused and contradictory. There is no eyewitness evidence of Khadir’s actions during the fighting. Nonetheless, one American soldier died at the time and Omar Khadr has been charged with his "murder".
I think it is safe to say that Omar Khadr was a participant in the resistance to American invaders in Afghanistan. However, and this is the seminal point, no one contests the fact that he was 15 years old at the time of his capture. That made him legally a child and international law requires that child soldiers be treated as victims of an environment beyond their control, and not as an adult making a conscious choice to participate in a war. In other words, using a phrase that President Obama is fond of, according to international law this was not a "war of choice" for Omar. The Bush administration did not care for international law in general and so, to get around this particular one, among others, it quite arbitrarily proclaimed that the fighters resisting US troops in Afghanistan were not part of an "real" army and therefore not "real" soldiers. As nonsensical as this was, it allowed the US military to deny Omar Khadr all legal rights and lock him away for eight years while they interrogated, threatened, tortured and abused him incessantly. Not surprisingly they got a "confession" out of Omar using these tactics and a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay decided that the "confession" is admissible as evidence. President Obama has made no objection to this situation. Nor, for that matter, has the Canadian government, whose conservative majority has essentially abandoned one of its own citizens to his fate within a lawless system. In this case, at least, the old saying that military justice is a contradiction in terms is certainly correct.
Bradley Manning – witness to "incredible things, awful things"
Bradley Manning was an army intelligence analyst with US forces in the Middle East who became deeply disturbed by what his job revealed to him. Essentially, it made him a front row witness to what he described as "incredible things, awful things". This primarily entailed the careless killing of innocent civilians. As an act of conscience he gave the website Wikileaks over 200,000 classified documents and a number of videos showing attacks on Iraqi and Afghan civilians. Unfortunately, he confided in another American hacker who turned him into the government. He is presently in solitary confinement at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, and charged with, among other things, "transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party". If convicted, and there seems little doubt that the military will have it any other way, he faces 52 years in prison.
The breech of security in this case was significant enough to draw comment from US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates who asserted that what Manning had done was "grievously harmful". Why so? Because, "the battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous to our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that part of the world". This was followed up by at least one Republican congressman, Mike Rogers of Michigan, asserting that Manning is traitor and should be executed. On the other hand, Defence Department and administration spokesmen have been trying to minimize the effect of Manning’s action by asserting that the information he made public was "nothing new". Just old data. It is hard to see how the government can have it both ways. But there can be little doubt that Gates was right about one thing. The information will "damage ... our reputation in that part of the world" and elsewhere too. Those who have only now learned what the US is doing should be appalled. Those who knew all along ought to have already been appalled.
A. The government leaders who have accused both Omar Khadr and Bradley Manning of egregious crimes would themselves be judged criminal in a world where they did not control the flow of information. As the human rights lawyer Francis Boyle has pointed out, the war in Afghanistan, as the one in Iraq, is illegal under international law. "Congress never declared war. The UN Security Council never authorized it under Article 51. And the Taliban never attacked the United States or authorized or approved such an attack." As Stephen Lendman tells us in a fine piece on Manning published on 7 August 2010, "FBI Director Robert Mueller, and CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin admitted finding no link between the Taliban and 9/11".
So what the heck are we doing in Afghanistan? What national interest is so mortally important that it has brought Khadr and Manning to the brink of destruction for resisting and exposing the actions of the United States? What is it that makes this a "war of necessity" according to President Obama? Here are some of the reasons that are tossed around:
2. It is all about oil and control of pipelines, etc. No doubt this has something to do with our actions, but one can compete for control of these things through commercial channels which is cheaper and far less lethal than making war in a country that has never been truly conquered and controlled.
If this is accurate, it is a mistake to believe that decisions made about policy in the Middle East are coherent, logical and long term. They are more improvised and opportunistic. They are most often made by people who know nothing about the region and do not care about justice, rights and law either domestic or international. In short, the entire process which has brought the United States to its present plight is horribly short term, myopic and certainly unprincipled.
Conclusion – does the public care?
Both Omar Khadr and Bradley Manning, as well as those who have rallied to their support, are betting that they can arouse public sentiment in their favour. In a letter to his Canadian lawyer, Khadr said that he wants to "show the world how unfair the system is ... and show that the US will eventually convict child soldiers". Manning’s supporters have created a "Bradley Manning Support Network" to "Harness the outrage felt by millions" and to "raise awareness about his arrest, charges and court-martial". The key question is, do most Americans, much less the world, really care?
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Fundamentalism and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli State.source