Monday, August 9, 2010

An Unnecessary Trial at Guantanamo

A military tribunal is set to try Omar Khadr at Guantanamo.

Khadr is accused of lobbing a grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy and spying.
Khadr was 15 at the time. Although I support using military tribunals in certain instances, this whole situation with Khadr is unnecessary. If Khadr threw a grenade during a firefight, one of two things should have happened. Depending on the exact circumstances he should have been treated as A) a civilian unlawful combatant, or B) a member of the Taliban. If A), he should have been summarily executed. I know that we no longer use this traditional & customary penalty for civilians who attack military personnel in war zones -- although we should -- but we should have at least used whatever procedure we normally follow in Afghanistan to deal with such cases. If B), Khadr should have been treated as any other common member of the Taliban. In neither case was there any reason to transfer a 15 year-old nobody to Guantanamo from Afghanistan.

Since we foolishly brought Khadr to Guantanamo, a teenager highly unlikely to have any useful intelligence that couldn't have been gained in theater, we are now stuck with going through a farcical "war crimes" proceeding. If Khadr was a member of the Taliban, or any other militant group opposed to the U.S., his throwing a grenade during a firefight was a simple act of war.  The fact that he killed an American is irrelevant. That's the entire point of throwing grenades at your enemies. Labeling grenade-throwing as a war crime is ludicrous.

This is yet another example of the perils of taking a foolish legalistic approach to war. Members of the Taliban are clearly enemy combatants. Unless we are going to consider every single member of the Taliban to be a criminal subject to trial, there is no reason to single out certain individuals and pretend that their particular normal acts of war constitute war crimes. Whatever Khadr's actual status, he should simply have been turned over to the Afghan authorities for them to deal with. It's insane that we have kept this individual in Guantanamo for almost eight years. 

In case anyone gets the wrong idea, let me clarify a couple of things. I have no sympathy at all for Khadr, who appears to be an enemy of the U.S. who killed a U.S. serviceman. If he was simply a civilian who suddenly decided to throw a grenade at U.S. troops, in my opinion he should have been put up against a wall and shot to death by firing squad. But there was no good reason whatsoever to bring him to Guantanamo, and no reason to hold him there for so long -- as if he were some sort of Al Qaeda or Taliban leader. The entire situation should have been handled in Afghanistan, preferably by turning him over to the Afghan government and letting them deal with him. We created an entirely unnecessary problem for ourselves.


  1. I actually think I agree with you on this. We should be treating captured or surrendering combatants as POWs, not criminals. That said, once we import them to Guantanamo I think we should treat them prisoners, subject to civilian trial.

  2. At the very least we could have some sort of consistent policy, rather than operating in an ad hoc manner.