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The last westerner in Guantanamo

Canada's government refuses to call for the release of a young Canadian held at the US prison.

A drawing by artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. military, shows young Canadian captive, Omar Khadr, attending a pre-trial session at the Guantanamo Bay naval base Dec. 12, 2008. (Janet Hamlin/Reuters)

TORONTO — On the morning of July 27, 2002, American Special Forces soldiers were pinned down by an outnumbered handful of suspected Al Qaeda fighters in a compound south of Kabul. Two F-18 warplanes proceeded to drop 500-pound bombs.

When the smoke cleared, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer went to survey the rubble. The Denver, Colo. native never saw the grenade that landed at his feet, killing him. A U.S. soldier says he then saw an injured fighter lying in the debris and shot him dead. He saw another — later identified as Omar Khadr — sitting on the ground, and pumped two bullets into his back.

Khadr survived. As an army medic treated the gaping exit wounds on his chest, Khadr whispered, in English, "Shoot me.”

He was 15 years old. He was also a Toronto-born Canadian citizen.

Today, Khadr is the last westerner languishing in America’s notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Other western countries have demanded and secured the release of their citizens. But successive Canadian governments have steadfastly refused to even ask for Khadr’s return. That fact alone challenges Canada’s self-image as a standard-bearer for human rights and international law.

Khadr was a child soldier. International conventions signed by Canada consider child soldiers victims who should be rehabilitated, rather than prosecuted — in Khadr’s case, if he ever gets a trial, for Speer’s murder. Yet the Canadian government continues to wash its hands of him, even after U.S. President Barack Obama announced the closing of “Gitmo” within a year.

Canada's current conservative government stands virtually alone among western countries in supporting the Guantanamo prison, despite the discredited legal contortions used by the previous U.S. administration to justify its existence and the “enhanced” interrogation techniques its inmates have suffered.

One example used on Khadr is described in “Guantanamo’s Child,” a well-documented book by the Toronto Star’s national security reporter, Michelle Shephard: “The guards left him in the interrogation booth for hours, short-shackled with his ankles and wrists bound together and secured to a bolt on the floor. Unable to move, he eventually urinated and was left in a pool of urine on the floor.

“When the MPs returned and found the soiled teenager, they poured pine oil cleaner on Omar’s chest and the floor. Keeping him short-shackled, the guards used Omar as a human mop to clean up the mess. Omar was returned to his cell and for two days the guards refused to give him fresh clothes.”