Some military families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan are condemning news that the federal government has agreed to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement to former Guantanamo Bay inmate and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr.
The $10.5-million settlement and official apology from the government drew a swift reaction Tuesday, with some military families calling the deal a disgrace.
“It’s totally disgraceful, totally disrespectful,” said Murray Marshall, whose son, Sapper Steven Marshall, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
“The kids that served and the families of the fallen, these are outstanding people and now we’re turning our back on all that. I can’t imagine what they’re thinking now.”
Khadr, who now lives in Edmonton, spent 10 years in a Guantanamo Bay prison cell after he was seriously injured in a firefight and captured from the rubble of a bombed out compound in Afghanistan in July 2002.
He was 15 when he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. special forces soldier Christopher Speer. Khadr pleaded guilty in 2010 before a controversial American military commission to charges that included Speer’s murder, and was sentenced to a further eight years in custody. He later said he confessed to get out of Guantanamo Bay.
In 2004, Khadr launched a $20-million lawsuit alleging Ottawa violated international law by not protecting its citizen. He was later allowed to claim that Canada conspired with the U.S. in abusing him.
However, even military families who acknowledge the possibility that Khadr’s rights may have been violated while he was detained said Tuesday that they were uncomfortable with the settlement.
“We all feel compelled about the case of human rights and I do hope that those are addressed in his situation. However, I don’t feel that a compensation package in that amount is a good use of Canada’s finances,” said Rachel Herbert, sister of Cpl. Nathan Hornburg, a Calgary soldier who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.
“I think there are a lot of better ways that we could address the human-rights violations in his case.”
Echoing the concerns of some military families Tuesday, conservative politicians slammed the government for a settlement that they argued was insulting to serving soldiers and veterans.
“When a Canadian soldier is injured in battle, the government provides a disability award up to a maximum of $360,000,” Calgary MP Michelle Rempel said in a tweet. “Despite this, the current government is willing to provide $10 million to a convicted terrorist.”
But legal experts and rights advocates say that those angry over the settlement should question the Canadian authorities that permitted Khadr’s rights to be violated in the first place.
“If government officials don’t want to be paying out this kind of money, then they need to protect people’s civil liberties far better,” said Kelly Ernst with the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association.
“It’s easy to take people’s civil liberties away because we feel like it or it feels more safe, but there are consequences for that — the Supreme Court and other courts are going to say, well, no, this isn’t constitutional.”
Rights advocates point to a 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that said Canadian intelligence officials had obtained evidence from Khadr under “oppressive circumstances,” such as sleep deprivation, during interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in 2003, and shared the evidence with U.S agents and prosecutors.
“Here’s a case that maybe is a good case for governments to wake up and smell the civil liberties,” Ernst said.