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Prosecuting Khadr instead of Bush - the supreme irony of the Obama presidency.


By NicolasDavies - Posted on 08 August 2010

President Obama's position on war crimes committed during the Bush administration has been defined in American political discourse by rhetoric about "looking forward". But that only applies to American war crimes.

On the other hand, at Guantanamo Bay, a young man who was extra-judicially kidnapped by U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the age of fifteen and illegally transported to almost a decade of legal limbo in Cuba, is now set to stand trial in the first war crimes prosecution under the Obama administration.

Omar Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed one American, apparently based on a confession extracted by sleep deprivation and threats of rape. George W. Bush launched an illegal war of aggression that probably killed more than a million people. The whole world knows it. Even Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, recently referred on the floor of the House of Commons to the "illegal invasion" of Iraq.

At least ninety-eight people have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even US investigators and courts martial have agreed that some of the victims were tortured to death. But the harshest sentence handed down in any of these cases was a 5-month jail sentence.

Amid all the contradictions of the Obama administration: healthcare reform drafted by insurance executives; financial reform vetted by Goldman Sachs; the expansion of US Special Forces operations to 75 countries all over the world by a Nobel Peace Prize winner; none exemplifies the fundamental confusion and perversion of American policy as clearly as the disparity between the treatment of American war crimes and those committed by others.

George Orwell wrote in 1948, "Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage - torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians - which does not change its moral color when it is committed by "our" side... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

Since 2001, the United States has committed every single one of the "outrages" Orwell described: torture, the use of hostages (in Iraq), forced labor (by contractors in Iraq), mass deportations (or at least mass expulsions from Iraq), imprisonment without trial, forgery (Niger), assassination and the bombing of civilians. And every one of these crimes has been authorized by senior American military and civilian leaders.

So, Mr. Obama, by all means hold war crimes trials, make them fair, open and compliant with internationally recognized fair trial standards, and then free those found not guilty. In fact, charge whoever you like. But in the name of justice, you must apply the same standards to the investigation and prosecution of American war crimes as you apply to those committed by others.

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