The Rule of Law
Sheila Pratt is a contributor to the pomegranate, senior feature writer at the Edmonton Journal and co-author of Running on Empty: Alberta after the Boom. This is the first third of an article that appears in Alberta Views (June 2011) – available at your local newstand!
The jury of seven military officers filed back into the courtroom in Guantánamo Bay at the end of eight long hours deliberating the fate of Omar Khadr. Sitting next to Khadr, watching tensely, were two Edmonton lawyers, Nate Whitling and Dennis Edney. For the past seven years, the two Albertans had waged a determined battle for legal rights for Khadr. They had been to the Supreme Court twice, with some success, in their eﬀort to bring the rule of law to bear on the case. They’d travelled a dozen times since June 2007 to visit their client at this notorious US military prison and to help his American military lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, prepare the defence. This day, October 31, 2010, was a critical point in their journey—the fate of their client would ﬁnally be decided.
“Make no mistake, the world is watching,” the military prosecutor told the jury. “Your sentence will send a message.” Indeed. The court had accepted Khadr’s guilty plea (part of a plea bargain) the week before. Today it would recommend a sentence—and signal of the kind of justice to be had from the contentious and deeply ﬂawed US military justice system.
Whitling and Edney knew the legal deck was stacked against their client in the military commission system, which violated the rule of law and other fundamental principles of justice. For instance, in the military court, evidence obtained under torture was admissible—unthinkable in regular courts.The prosecution was not required to disclose its evidence, as required in regular courts. The military commission system, devised post 9/11 and modiﬁed by the Obama administration, was so stacked against the accused that the US government ruled its own citizens could not be sent to trial there. This was justice suitable for foreigners only.
But the US government was not the only one to ignore its own traditions concerning the rule of law. Months before the trial, the Canadian government ignored the recommendation of its own courts, which ruled Khadr’s Charter rights had been violated when Canadian security oﬃcials participated in illegal interrogations of Khadr. To remedy that wrong, the government should bring Khadr home, the courts said. Instead, the Harper government played to the politics of the day by leaving him in Guantánamo, argues Edney. By failing to uphold the rights of one citizen, he adds—however unpopular the citizen—the government undermined the legal rights that protect all Canadians.
The defence of Omar, second youngest son of Canada’s notorious al Qaeda-linked Khadr family, was not a popular cause. The family’s ties to terrorist Osama bin Laden were a shocking betrayal of national values and an aﬀront to Canadians. For Whitling and Edney, however, a greater principle was at stake: the rule of law, so fundamental to democracy. Every Canadian citizen is entitled to the right to counsel, protection from torture and to a fair trial. Khadr had none of that in Guantánamo. Continue reading “Sheila Pratt on “The Rule of Law” and Omar Khadr’s lawyers” →