Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The U.S. Goes After a Child Soldier

American troops arrested Omar Khadr, a fifteen-year-old boy from Canada, in Afghanistan in 2002. The allegation was that he threw a grenade that killed Christoph Speer, a U.S. medic.

The military held Khadr in prison at Guanantamo Bay for over eight years. He was the youngest detainee. But he was held so long that by the time he stood trial in a military commission, the boy had become a man.

Khadr continued to protest his innocence, claiming that he did not throw the grenade. His attorneys prevailed upon him to accept a plea bargain, however, telling him that the military officers were likely to convict him - with a likely sentence of life in prison.

The sentencing panel was not told of the plea agreement, which purported to cap the length of the sentence at eight years. Instead, the panel deliberated nearly nine hours before sentencing Khadr to 40 years. After one more year in U.S. custody he will have the right to petition to be returned to Canada.

Such a return could potentially result in an incongruous gap between the symbolic and the real, depending on how Canada chooses to treat the American sentence. A murky end to a troubling case that could have used more "truth in sentencing."

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