Everything about the last week’s events at Guantánamo has been deeply disturbing. On Monday, in defiance of international obligations requiring the rehabilitation of child prisoners, the US government — under President Obama — fulfilled the deepest wishes of the Bush administration, and persuaded Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, to plead guilty to charges of murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder, spying, conspiracy, and providing material support to terrorism, in a plea deal that apparently involves an eight-year sentence, with Khadr serving one more year at Guantánamo before being returned to Canada.
At the heart of the plea deal is a 50-point “Stipulation of Fact” (PDF), signed by Khadr and stating that he “does not have any legal defense to any of the offenses to which he is pleading guilty,” in which, despite his previous protestations to the contrary, he accepted that he threw a grenade that killed Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer on the day of his capture, and, moreover, that he was, at the time, an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who did not have “any legal basis to commit any war-like acts” at all.
As part of the Bush administration’s apparently successful rewriting of international law — facilitated by President Obama and lawmakers in Congress — Khadr was therefore obliged not only to forego further complaints about his age at the time of his capture, and the responsibility of others for indoctrinating him, but also to accept that he had been captured in circumstances in which it was impossible for him to be a legitimate combatant.