Khadr…. DMZ’s of the Mind

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - 10:31 AM

The case of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay detention center focuses our attention on the tension between the passage of time and the apparent difficulty in a political democracy to reconcile issues of security and justice. We, in America, can debate endlessly the potential danger of detainees being allowed to return home or being a threat to the U.S. in future terrorist attacks. We can choose continually to defer to the idea of caution by keeping suspects in prison while we work out the rules for their adjudication. What we cannot do, however, is be certain that our intentions are, by definition, benign or that the only outcome of these cases is some verdict: guilty or not-guilty.

As the U.S. has taken its time or explicitly stalled in the face of demands that detainees at Gitmo be given some resolution, a boy has grown up in custody. Omar Khadr was 15 when he was picked up and accused of being a member of the Taliban who threw a grenade and fatally injured a U.S. serviceman. He is in his mid-twenties now. His life is irrevocably changed and possibly even defined forever by U.S. actions and inactions. Khadr was once a tiny detail in a widening war. Now he is neither a detail nor is he a mere teenager anymore.

It reminds me of the DMZ separating the two Koreas where tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers still stand at the ready. It was supposed to be temporary when it was created after a cease-fire in the Korean War in 1950, but now it is essentially permanent for the people who have spent their entire lives with its presence.

Omar’s Khadr’s life has become very visible in eight years. If not an instance of collateral damage he is certainly a "collateral fact," some would say a legal casualty, from America’s longest war and the U.S. response to 9/11. Whatever the U.S. decides in this case before a military tribunal about alleged war crimes and Khadr’s membership in the Taliban, Omar Khadr in a very real sense is a creation of U.S. policy. The child of two presidents now.

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