Picture of Michael ClarkMichael Clark is an Assistant Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine


I think it is time that pediatricians and other physicians who care for children weigh in on the subject of Omar Khadr.  This young man, pushed by family into al-Qaeda as a 13 year old, clearly meets the United Nations definition of a child soldier.  A boy so young is not developmentally ready to understand the implications of engaging in a jihadist war.  Tragically, a U.S. soldier died in a battle involving Khadr.  However, the boy almost certainly thought he was at war, and not committing an act of terror.

Captured at the age of 15, Khadr has spent 12 years in custody.  He has been in the notorious Bagram prison, and then Guantanamo Bay.  He has been tortured, and he was convicted of war crimes in the absence of a fair trial.  After enduring a lifetime of manipulation and abuse, the Canadian federal government has appealed the decision of an Alberta judge to release Omar Khadr on bail, and referred to the decision as “disappointing.”

We cannot defeat terrorism with the hammer alone.  Time and time again, the current Canadian government has chosen to use its consistent foreign policy tool – the hammer – to combat terrorism, and now they have attempted to do so in the case of a former child soldier.  As a citizen I am concerned with their failure to recognize international law, and as a pediatrician, I am appalled by their failure to recognize the rights of children.

Is Omar Khadr a threat to Canadians?  I believe that is for the clinical psychologists and proper courts to decide, and we should let them do their jobs without interference from government ideologues.  Personally, I hope he remains free, and that we as a society support him through an inevitably difficult transition.  I believe that such an action will serve justice, and provide a precedent for future cases in which children have their rights taken away and future stolen from them.